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M.U.R. XIII: Monthly Experiments in Placemaking

Sambre Installation. 2013. Wood. 24′ x 8′. Mur XIII, Pasarrelle Simone de Beauvoir. Paris, France. (Image Credit: Caitlin Bruce)

As I write this I have been looking at updates from artists and friends about “Paint, Paste, & Sticker: Chicago Street Art,” the current show at the Chicago Cultural Center (running from October 18, 2013 to January 12, 2014).  The show, which Zore 64 had hinted to me might be happening, marks a significant moment of institutional recognition for a genre of public art that historically has been marginalized, and even demonized by municipal authorities in the city of Chicago.

Over 4,000 miles away, in Paris, the situation is quite different. After my first month here in Chicago, I have noticed that public art (and here I should say predominantly street art, less so graffiti) has a high level of official support and recognition. Nuit Blanche, the annual all-night art event where artists literally take over the Paris streets, featured several walls, light graffiti, and DJ sets, as well as a concluding performance on Canal St. Martin where lasers were projected onto the river to form a kind of electric “graffiti.”  Today, I encountered a performance by the group M.U.R. (Le Association Modulable, Urbain, Réactif), on a wall called Mur XIII. Mur XIII (Wall 13, in the 13th arrondissement) is a wall that is installed on the concrete supports on the left side of the Seine, under Passarelle Simone de Beauvoir, just in front of the Biblioteque Nationale François Mitterand. The wall is roughly twenty feet wide, eight feet tall, and is host to a revolving set of artists that paint over it every three weeks.

Sambre Installation. 2013. Wood. 24′ x 8′. Pasarrelle Simone de Beauvoir. Paris, France. (Image Credit: Caitlin Bruce)

The organization M.U.R.(“mur” means “wall”) was formed five years ago with the installation of a wall on a billboard in the eleventh arrondissement on Rue Oberkampf. The painting was illegal, but over time the group secured the support of the Mairie of the thirteenth arrondissement, the municipality. The mairie dedicated the wall, described above, to the group, and over the past five years they have hosted seventeen artists. October 18, 2013 marked the installation of the eighteenth participant — Sambre.

The goal, explained M.U.R. member Loïc Carpentier, is to make public art accessible to a general audience, but at a large scale, not diminutive little paintings that one might normally encounter in a gallery setting. In addition to some government support, participating artists sell silk screen prints for thirty euros to support the events, the prints usually resembling the works produced on the wall.

Sambres architectural piece – an agglomeration of wood and nails, taut when viewed from one angle – looks like a rubbish pile, but, when encountered from another angle, a six foot tall human face is revealed.  Sambre, born in 1984, lives and works in Paris, and he received his diploma from Métiers d’Art in sculpture from the school Boulle. Sambre works with a variety of media, including wood, metal, and glass. His work takes its form from the environment in which it is located.

The event is jovial with thirty to forty people relaxing by the river near the wall, reclining on ledges, drinking wine; little children play with chalk and toys while eating snacks. Occasionally a passerby above the wall will poke their head over the railing and ask a question of Sambre, who pauses his electric drill, looks up, and chats with them. The pacing is slow and leisurely.

The leisurely pace indexes something else: this is a legal wall, and the artists and audience have a right to be there. Sambre does not wear a mask and is unconcerned with the many photographers flitting around. Because the event is government-sanctioned it can be drawn out. Music drifts from the boat-bars on the river into the melange, and smoke curls upward into the fading light. As a rough, uneven wall space becomes remade into a warm surface of burnt-brown and lighter brown wooden planks, almost carmelized, the cold concrete walls are slightly transformed, made more human.

Sambre Print. 2013. Ink on paper. 9” x5”. Pasarrelle Simone de Beauvoir. Paris, France. (Image Credit: Caitlin Bruce)

Pasarelle Simone de Beauvoir. October 18, 2013. Paris, France. (Image Credit: Caitlin Bruce)

Le Mur can be reached at or

Thank you to Loïc Carpentier for the interview, and Chris Macnaughton for translating.

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