I’m sure it comes with little surprise, to anyone that’s spent even a modest amount of time in Europe, that Paris is somewhat of a “Mecca” for graffiti. Some of it very much artistic, a portion of it largely destructive and the vast majority of it located somewhere in between. It might come as a surprise though – as it did for me – that in Paris, this is not simply a “static” affair, limited to billboards, gable walls and overpasses, but also a “mobile” one, frequently inscribed onto many of the city’s ‘goods’ vehicles.
I started encountering these very soon after arriving in the 11th arrondissement. At first it was just an incidental rendezvous in some leafy square or side street. Then, it was an occasional sighting among marauding Parisian traffic. And then finally, after a few weeks of arriving, a mass cataloguing at the site of an immigrant-heavy market place. I soon realised that these wheel-bound canvases were the property of the market’s venders and that each morning they were called up from their sporadic slumber across the city and into a great and incidental exhibition. One that is constantly re-curated, each and everyday.
During my time in Paris, I thought about these vehicles quite a lot: I asked myself about their origin, the viewpoint of their owners, their social and cultural significance, and also their legality. While most of these questions remained unanswered, I did find out a little about myself in the process and with that, French and British culture in general. At the heart of these enquiries were, what I detect as, issues of ‘ownership’, ‘appearances’ and ‘rules’. All things, that in hindsight, I felt challenged on within the other aspects of my daily life in Paris. We often associate France, or the French, with a certain laissez-faire attitude, which of course contrasts quite distinctly from our own tightly-wound British sensibilities but it is rare that we can actually point to something and say “look, this is an example of the difference between us”. Well, I think here we can. These graffiti vans present a tangible microcosm of this aspect of French culture and one that, by simply transplanting them in our minds to our own eclectic cities, stand out distinctly from what we would ever expect to see.