After having archived and referenced graffiti on the French national monuments as traces of history and archeology for decades, the Centre des Monuments Nationaux (CMN) is dedicating its 2018 cultural season to historical graffiti with a series of exhibitions and events called “Sur les murs, histoire(s) de graffiti“ on nine of its thirty national monuments curated by Laure Pressac .
The Towers of La Rochelle are currently presenting Graff on Tour(s) with a focus on historical graffiti as well as artistic interventions by contemporary artists. Following a month residency, internationally renowned graffiti duo Lek & Sowat were given total freedom to create contemporary artistic installations in the Saint Nicolas Tower and the city of La Rochelle. Looking up, the French flag on the Saint Nicolas Tower has been replaced by a pirate flag floating high with graffuturism and calligraffiti letters.
Known for their interventions both in abandoned places such as Mausolee or institutions such as the Palais de Tokyo, Lek and Sowat were particularly interested by the historical monument of the Saint Nicolas Tower due to its architecture, context and history.
Some quick historic facts: during the 14th century La Rochelle was a centre of maritime trade and the Towers were controlling entry to the port by the many trading ship. From the 16th to 19th centuries, the Towers were also used as prison towers, whether for Huguenots (French protestants) and foreign sailors, or military prisoners. Over 600 graffiti have been recorded, engraved in the walls of the Rochelle Towers.
Lek & Sowat were inspired and intrigued by the story of the junction between the Saint Nicolas Tower and the Chaine Tower, mentioned in a previous historical book and fuelled with the calculations of the architect Juste Lisch . Based on this historical and utopian idea, they have imagined a graffuturist gateway with the help of their friend David ‘Tcheko’ La Tulipe.
Pursuing their quest to push the boundaries of graffiti and contemporary art, Lek & Sowat created a multisensorial and immersive installation inside the Saint Nicolas Tower.
They wanted to recreate the feelings of fear and unknown so present when doing urbex (urban exploration), not knowing what you might find, but being excited as the same time.
Visitors descend the Saint Nicolas Tower’s stairs in total darkness until their feet touch the floor of the lower ground space. Then the adrenaline kicks in: Boom ! It’s an explosion of lighting effects and fractal shadows, triggered by vibration sensors and revealing a three dimensional metallic bridge with geometric shapes, reminiscent of the abstract geometric shapes found in Lek & Sowat graffiti paintings.
The immersive installation creates a new dynamic dialogue between the viewer and the historical tower, a vibrant and interactive display for all ages, where the viewer is also an active participant in the creation of the installation.
The interaction is fun, liberating and addictive.
The arched shape of the ground floor combined with the artistic installation also reminds us of a cathedral and its colourful stained glass windows with the graffuturist metallic structure recreating the stained glass windows outlines, giving a sacred aura to the historical space.
Continuing the programme of Graff on tour(s) with the Quinzaine du Numerique, five artists including Philippe Boisnard (FR), Vincent Dubois (FR), Collectif Impact (FR), Julia Masvernat (AR) and Julia Suero (AR), have invaded the Lantern Tower by creating a transmedia journey with digital installations, visual mapping, videos, and sound installations.
Through the ascending progression of the Lantern Tower, this transmedia path evokes the transition from figuration to abstraction as well as the transformation from analog material into digital material.
Stay tuned as we continue our visit of the CMN Cultural season across the summer
“Sur les Murs, Histoire(s) de Graffiti”.
Photos and text by Butterfly Art News