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Artists' Squat on the Rue de Rivoli

I have noticed many times on visits over the last several years, en flânant down the Rue de Rivoli in Paris (a couple blocks west of Boulevard de Sébastopol, just up from Châtelet), these large crazy faces attached to the windows of the building at no. 59. As it turns out, it's a sculptural installation made by artists named Sara and BIBI, and it marks the home of the artists' collective Chez Robert-Electron libre, who started squatting at 59, rue de Rivoli, five years ago.

As I learned from an article (A Paris, le squat d'artistes du 59, rue de Rivoli ferme ses portes au public, March 28) by Florence Morice for Le Monde, the collective has made an agreement with the municipal government of Paris, which purchased the building in 2002. According to the schedule of reoccupation of the property, the artists (there are about 30 of them) agreed to close the building to the public as of March 28. They will be allowed to continue working there through the end of 2006, at which point they will be moved by the city to an undisclosed location during the work to renovate the building, so that the collective can occupy it, legally and as a permanent home in the center of Paris, planned to reopen in February 2008.

What will be left of this oasis of artistic freedom? "I have no idea," worries Kalex, a sculptor and a member of KGB (Kalex, Gaspard, and Bruno), the trio who first occupied the site. In 1999, when they decided to take over the building, which had been abandoned for about ten years by Crédit Lyonnais, their intentions were clear: to underscore the struggle of urban cultural politics and draw as large a public as possible, so that "contemporary art would not be limited only to the elite," explains Anita [Savary], a specialist in collage and photography. Like many others, she joined the collective shortly after it was created, after an impromptu visit. "That day, I discovered the place I had been dreaming of for a long time, without even knowing that it existed. And I moved in here."

Very soon, the public also took to the squat, which acquired over the years a level of international fame. Once they had pushed open the multicolored door, the visitor could discover the artists at work, walk around through the studios, enjoy the decoration. With some 40,000 visitors per year, 59, rue de Rivoli, became one of the most visited centers of contemporary art in the capital. "It's thanks to the support of the public that we were able to survive," Anita says.
Some people are afraid that the publicly funded work will "sanitize" the site, destroying what was original about it. The collective has stipulated that the exterior installations had to be preserved, but the interior will require the artists to begin anew. I am very sorry that I did not give in to curiosity one of the times I passed by there, so that I could have seen it before it became officially sponsored.

The artists who made the sculpture are Sara and BIBI, the latter of whom was omitted in the original form of this post. A comment attached here and an e-mail to the author have urged a correction, which is now noted. See the comments for further information.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

To be exact :

On this picture from de Rivoli Squat, this "sculptural installation" is created by Sara and BIBI (thanks for him !).
Bibi has invited Sara to create the figure of Venus in metal.
The "Mars" is created by BIBI.

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