The French photographer/artist JR has been well-known for a very short time. It all began in the year 2000 at the Charles-de-Gaulle-Etoile subway station in Paris. JR, then 17 years old, discovered a camera that had been left behind. JR decided to use the camera to document street artists in action. For three years, he followed the graffeurs, presenting his images in the streets and on the rooftops around Paris. To save money, he pasted up Xeroxes of the photos, then spray painted frames around them so they would not be confused with ads or political posters. He thus created the illegal exhibition Expo 2 Rue, turning the city into a gallery.
Just a few years later he gained recognition and permission to post his work. Dominique Bertinotti, the mayor of the 4th arrondissement, made available the outside walls of the Espace des Blancs Manteaux; and Jean-Luc Monterosso, Director of the MEP, presented Portrait of a Generation on the walls of the Maison Européenne de la Photographie. Twelve years on, with a nod to this early collaboration, the MEP devotes its entire exhibition space for an solo show called Momentum.
Some of Jr’s critics consider that his attachment to causes is just a way to gain media attention to inflated his over sized ego. They say he exploits women, guns, immigrants and the like just to attract attention. Whatever his internal motivations are I find that his installations are genial. Their scale and locations are astonishing and playful, like a kid with over sized Legos building his own playground, so I went to see the expo.
To understand the expo it is worth noting that the full title, “Momentum, la mécanique de l’épreuve”, has a double meaning; it means both “Momentum, the mechanics of the ordeal” and ”Momentum, the mechanics of the photographic print”.
MOMENTUM itself means impulse, thrust, or movement. Physics defines it as the action of an external force on a system, which determines its motion and speed. JR’s work involves cities and communities, giving momentum to a new view or face and changing our way of seeing that place. Everyone knows the monumental aspect of JR’s work, but this exhibition tries to show a less familiar side, the introspective side, the gradual momentum of the creative process JR uses when he designs a new public project. For as flamboyant as JR’s work is it is also very precise and carefully worked through his methodical process of turning negatives into monumental flyposts assembling the prints to form giant murals. Visitors to the exhibition witness the transformation of bodies, images, dimensions and spaces. The show is both a journey into the work of JR and an opportunity to touch on the complex mechanisms and planning behind the scenes.
The show itself however didn’t actually give much insight as to how a street artist gathers the technical and administrative know how to take on humongous projects (although we do know that he has a team of 15 people to help him). Nor do we understand how a street artist can mentally come full circle from illegal postings to dealing with the permits required for vast projects. But I found that the film Visages, Villages underlined the playful side of JR’s work and gave the best insight as to how a project evolves.
JR’s film work is shown on weekends. The Wrinkles of the City series, the award winning Visages, Villages (Faces/Places travels through France in collaboration with Agnès Varda), Ellis (about early 20th century migration through Ellis island and reflection on today’s migrations) and the European premier of The Gun Chronicles: a Story of America are amongst some of the titles shown.
The MOMENTUM show runs until UNTIL 10 FEBRUARY 2019 at the MEP. You can also see part of this expo in the metro via the RATP partnership that features WORKS BY JR IN 11 metro STATIONS. This monumental series of the “gazes” of 26 anonymous people are ont eh walls of the stations: Bir- Hakeim, Châtelet, Gare de Lyon, Hôtel de Ville, La Chapelle, Luxembourg, Madeleine, Nanterre-Université, Pyramides, Saint-Denis Porte de Paris and Saint-Michel. By exhibiting these imposing “gazes” in busy stations, JR wishes to encourage passengers to think about the identity of those who observe them and how they can interact with them. Entitled Voyager avec d’autres (Travelling with Others), the work invites us to think about, and rethink, the nature of our day-to-day encounters with others in the Metro. Look for JR himself as you contemplate the gazes, he’ll be back in the stations to change the photos (for there is nothing JR loves more than to climb a scaffold with a glue brush in his hand) and to record people’s reactions exploring the stories that unfold between the train passengers and the eyes observing them. As JR himself says “exhibiting my work on the [metro] platforms is a chance to present my work to people who didn’t ask for anything, who didn’t come to a gallery or museum but are just going to work or to visit friends. It fits with my view of art as something that has to reach out to people.”
VISIT THE JR EXHIBITION WITH A SPECIALLY DESIGNED (by JR) AUDIOGUIDE AVAILABLE ON LINE AT https://soundcloud.com/MEP_PARIS
Maison Européenne de la Photographie
5/7 rue de Fourcy, 75004 Paris
+33 (0)1 44 78 75 00 – www.mep-fr.org
M° Saint-Paul (metro line 1) or Pont Marie (metro line 7)
Open Wednesday to Sunday from 11am to 8pm