Two weeks after its trompe-l’oeil monumental around the Pyramid of the Louvre, the French artist JR hits again. For the Havana Biennial, which opens Friday, he exhibited the photo giant, a child of cuban spying the rooftops of the city.
In an interview with the AFP, the world star of the photographic collages claims “a direct relationship to the work and no fuss”. It tells about what project to dress up a wall in the chinese district of the cuban capital, at the invitation of the Italian, Lorenzo Fiaschi, director of the Gallery Continued in Cuba.
The idea of this work – the picture of a small boy, with bare feet, glued to the horizontal with the head, which exceeds to look beyond – came to him “very simply,” says the artist of 36 years, with his eternal cap, and hidden by dark glasses.
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“there was this child who was on the balcony of a nearby house), and looked at it. It was called, asking him “You come down?”. He was told “do as if you were on the wall,” he went on tip-toe and we did the picture like that.” The little boy, barely 10 years old came to see this week the final result. Discover in giant. “It is fun, but without being all excited… his mother had a telephone and she has not taken a photo,” notes JR. Behind this yellow wall is tilted, these are the roofs of decrepit from the centre of the cuban capital that one sees.
Behind this yellow wall is tilted, these are the roofs of decrepit from the centre of the cuban capital that one sees. YAMIL LAGE/AFP
“France, the United States are country where we have been accustomed to the autoproclamation self-image, selfies, celebrity life-size”. But nothing of all this in the island, under the communist government since 1959. “When one has not grown up with it, the impact is completely different.”
In Cuba, the notion of public space has a particular connotation: no advertisements on the walls, but instead of the messages of the defense of the revolution led by Fidel Castro in 1959, or of the portraits of his companions in combat, Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos. The French artist said to find a certain rest. “When I come back to Paris or New York, it is so showered with advertisements everywhere. Here our mind is left to think, to dream.”
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And the crane cam … work in progress in Cuba with @galleriacontinua @artecontinua_lahabana for the Biennial
For Cubans, see their walls, as well rhabillés by the contemporary art, it is still fairly new. “When I came to do a project here for the Biennale of 2012, I had put portraits of the elderly on fifteen or twenty walls in the town,” recalls JR. “It was the first time that other portraits as those of Che, of Fidel, or Camilo were enlarged on the walls and, therefore, it was fascinating because people were asking “I don’t recognize who it is, Fidel or Che?” I said “nope this is Jose, he lives at the corner here””.
A way for JR to continue to play on her playground favorite: the street. In 2008, he had dressed the walls of a favela in Rio de Janeiro, with portraits of women. “Paste in the streets, it allows you to have a direct relationship with the inhabitants, but also to have a conversation around the art outside of any framework, any museum, any structure,” says the artist. In Havana, his work calls to continue “beyond the wall”.
“And this image, when it returns, it is the city that is to the side and the child bends down to look at all strata”, he explains. How long will it take? “It all depends on the sun and the rain.” But “to me, it is always ephemeral.”
JR is preparing a large fresco of the inhabitants of Cuba. YAMIL LAGE/AFP
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sticking to the Pyramid of the Louvre will not have as well survived only a few hours, prompting many reactions in France. “It was wanted: we left 50,000 people walk over to retrieve the scraps, it’s part of the work. When in your life you will have the chance to go for a walk on an artist’s work and rip it?”
Its history with Cuba do not stop there: JR prepares a large fresco of the inhabitants of the island, to the image of his work on those of Montfermeil (suburbs of paris), exhibited at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris, and San Francisco, presented at the SF Moma (Museum of modern art, San Francisco) next month. “It is a mammoth task, it is two years old so I’m going to go back to work in-depth across the country. This would be for the museum of Fine Arts in Havana, the idea is a fresco where you can also listen to the stories of each person”.