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The Artist-Squatters of Paris

It is my pleasure to announce a show of photos documenting the artistic squats of Paris, where I spent most of my time from September 1991 to October 1992. (A squat is an abandoned building where people live without paying rent.) The show is at Firestorm Cafe & Books, an anarchist collective in downtown Asheville, North Carolina. For those of you who live in the area, it is at 48 Commerce Street. Stop by before August 15 for an experience of creative anarchy: portraits of the squatters and their modern primitive lifestyle, texts I wrote while living there, drawings and flyers, and a wall of burned contact sheets destroyed in a fire. My thanks to Alexei and Shannon for helping to make the show happen. For those of you who can’t make it, I hope this post will give you a small taste of what you are missing.

I’ve reached the center of the war zone finally, where my dreams begin. A sacred garden in the heart of the city. A people who call themselves angels. This is the life we imagined for ourselves when we were children: now we are in France and the police are interested in who I am.

I feel like I’m living in an ant colony, in which everyone has their specialized functions and roles, defined somehow by the unanimous consent of the group. There seems to be little tension as to who will take which role. Indeed it’s pretty much up for grabs, to do with as you like: although courtesy is important, and I don’t think they want any skinhead thrashers here.

I can’t think of any squatter I don’t like, although their studied indifference is at times baffling. The fact is, you wish that people who care about something would just come out and admit it, and fight for the right to do it—in a direct way, not sullenly—and help each other in this effort.

Everything here is impressive and pitiful at the same time. I don’t know how to explain it: a series of pathetic gestures which are nevertheless beautiful, and it is their choreography that makes them beautiful. Meanwhile everyone is going around on an empty stomach, looking like ghosts and smoking hashish.

—September 1991

It is anger that feeds our existence now. It is our shared anger that draws us closer together as a family. It is very hard to be a chronicler of an event like this, because everything that is happening is real.

Our community is suffering a great deal from the fire, which happened in the middle of the night and left us no time to prepare. About a hundred people were part of the Château, and all records of our existence—the work itself, our tools and personal belongings, clothes, journals and so on—were lost, either burned in the fire or confiscated afterwards. Now we have no place to live, and must face the day in plain view of an indifferent public, without the chance to resume our work any time soon. As a community it will take us several months to rebuild what we have lost. Do you, the public, want us to simply disappear? Or would you like us to resurrect ourselves, and the spark of life we bring to this otherwise dead city?

How to accomplish a long-term struggle? Either we are in it for the long haul, or we are not in it. That is what each of us must decide for himself or herself. Myself, I hope that the best of us will remain in it. How could it be otherwise? There is no way to go back to before the fire, to erase this incident from our memory. Now we will see who our real friends are.

—February 1992

VOLUNTEERISM: A SHORT MANIFESTO

The idea that I would like to present for your consideration is that we are volunteers.

All poetry aside, we are simply a group of people who have chosen to do something in the public interest without being paid.

In a society such as ours, one assumes that work has value only if it is paid. When one works without being paid, it is said that one works for nothing.

The inherent value of our work is a direct attack on the notion that money is the source of all value.

The other interesting thing about us is that we work without waiting to be asked. We see where we can be useful and we begin to work.

It strikes people as strange that we offer a solution where they did not realize there was a problem!

—March 1992

I went to see the new squat that opened last week. Some people were working downstairs to clean up debris and secure the door, which was a large sheet of glass. Sara met us and led us upstairs, through the large painting-studios-to-be and around the central courtyard to the kitchen on the top floor, where people began to play the guitar and paint. Later she gave us a tour of the whole building. There are five floors in all, the top two floors being made up of small rooms ideal for living in, and the next two consisting of very large rooms perfect for painting, sculpture or other activities. In one spot a small attic of two or three rooms forms an additional story inhabited only by pigeons. There is also an extensive cellar of stone vaults.

Back on the ground floor, the clean-up work was proceeding with ingenious speed because everyone spontaneously found something to do. In about twenty minutes a large hole in the floor was filled in, all the debris was arranged in stacks along the walls, and the floor was swept. Besides this, the electricity was already restored throughout the building. Some people went home to their respective squats to sleep, and others decided from that moment to stay and share the life of the new squat. Sara exulted: “At last we’ve found a building with the right kind of space for all or us to live together and have a place to work.”

—March 1992

What is this community where I’m living now? We are a group of creators who work in each others’ presence, who share a daily life in which creation plays a vital role. We have relations among ourselves that are almost too intimate and honest, so to protect ourselves we throw up barricades that make us difficult to know, especially to outsiders, but also to each other. We live surrounded by the evidence of our creation, and also by the refuse of our daily life which is never effectively removed: dirty dishes, the smell of piss in the bathroom, discarded magazines. In fact, the two blend into each other, so that the art we make becomes dirty and sad, without our garbage becoming more artistic.

I think the reason for the insecurity that is obvious among us—the perpetual challenges we make to one another, the disappearance of small objects such as lighters or pens, the fact that our projects rarely reach a conclusion—is that we haven’t succeeded in persuading the society around us of the necessity of our presence. We know among ourselves that we are creating something important, yet each morning we wake up to a gruesome reality: persecuted, chased from one location to another every few months, too poor to participate in the life outside our doors, barely tolerated by our neighbors and the shopowners of the district…all this is in stark contrast to the talent and goodwill that are perpetually trying to surface among us. I’m convinced that despite our continual talk of rejecting society and “the system,” our deepest wish is simply to be accepted for what we are.

—August 1992

Comments

Comment from Gordon Smith
Time: July 21, 2008, 22:14

BlogAsheville netizen,

See you Friday?

Comment from Cooper
Time: July 25, 2008, 21:29

Really interesting work you’ve got here. I’ll definitely stop by and see it as soon as the Bele Chere madness is over.

As a fellow Asheville blogger and photographer, I wanted to invite you to my photo exhibition about Asheville’s River Arts District. Here’s some info:

http://www.darktopography.com/district.html

Next Saturday night at Pump Gallery. Free beer and food while it lasts. Hope to see you there, and good luck with your exhibition!

Comment from eatbees
Time: July 26, 2008, 11:54

Thanks, I’ll be sure to make it … if not the reception, then some other time before the show is over … your website gives a good taste of your work and makes me want to see it up close!

Comment from Gianna
Time: July 26, 2008, 14:52

hey, Marcel,
I will try to go to Firestorm in the next week or two…we’re moving into town very soon. The house closes on Aug 11. We plan to be in there immediately.

Let’s be in touch!

Comment from Myrtus
Time: July 27, 2008, 20:44

Eatbees you are amazing! I really admire your ability to see pattern in even chaos and anarchy and capture it’s beauty. You images do a remarkable job communicating the true face of the human spirit….it aches to be free! Good luck with the show, I wish I could be there.

Comment from eatbees
Time: July 27, 2008, 21:27

Gianna — It’s better to go to the show soon, just in case it closes early. Aug. 15 was the last date we agreed on, but it’s always been vague. Hope to see you soon!

Comment from eatbees
Time: July 27, 2008, 21:27

Myrtus — Too bad you can’t see all the images together in one place, because there are over 50 of them, and it only adds to the feeling you describe. Being someone who trusts his instincts more than institutions, anarchy has always been beautiful to me… at least when it’s voluntary, as it was here. Thanks for the kind words, it’s always a pleasure to hear from you!

Comment from Gianna
Time: July 27, 2008, 21:46

hey you want to meet there for a hot drink this week? live is chaotic, I’m in the midst of packing, but would love to see you and the show!!

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