Space Invaders in Paris

if Space Invaders took over Paris

This is the fifth installment in a series on the French-themed trip I took this summer, which included two weeks in Paris.  In my first post, I fill you in on how I became such a Francophile.  See my other posts, and come along on a Parisian food tour inspired by David Lebovitz, see me try out his recipe for pain d’épices au chocolat, and read my homage to lovely Montmartre.  

Thanks for reading and please check back in, there’s a lot more to come!

*     *     *

Yes, a post on Space Invaders.  Those of you who know me may be surprised that I am writing about an ’70s/’80s video game instead of food. True, I’ve never been much of a gamer, and almost of all of my “screen time” is spent with the one I am looking at as I type these words.  I don’t watch much TV or get to see as many movies as I’d like, so the plane is a good time for me to catch up.  The choice of programming can be pretty eclectic depending on the airline, and since I have the option to change at will and frequently, I find myself being more experimental in my choices when I’m in the air.  During the many hours of plane flights this summer, I finally saw a few episodes of Mad Men and liked it less than I expected; watched Nurse Jackie and found myself somewhat guiltily hooked; saw depressing Hollywood and French films involving infidelity and death; and was charmed by a biopic on Bill Cunningham, the New York Times fashion chronicler.

Among this motley assortment, I watched Exit Through the Gift Shop, the (pseudo?)-documentary directed by well known international street artist Banksy.  In the introduction, we meet Thierry Guetta, a Los Angeles based artist otherwise known as Mr. Brainwash.  We see the development of Mr. Brainwash’s art beginning with his maniacal and persistent videotaping of everything, literally everything, he sees and experiences while awake.  Mr. Brainwash explains that he was first introduced to street art by his cousin, a French street artist known as Invader.  Invader takes his name from the pioneering video game Space Invaders.  Since the late 1990s he has been creating tile mosaics modeled after those characters and pasting them up on prominent public buildings around Paris and in other cities around the world.  These are known as “Invasions,” and Invader documents their locations with books and maps.  The Invaders have made it thus far to other cities in France including Montpellier, Marseille, Avignon, Rennes, Bordeaux, and Lille, and internationally to London, Cologne,Geneva, Newcastle, Rome, Berlin, Lausanne, Barcelona, Bonn, Ljubljana, Vienna, Graz, Amsterdam, Bilbao, Manchester, Darlington  Los Angeles, New York City, San Diego, Toronto, Bangkok,Tokyo, Katmandu, Varanasi, Melbourne, Perth and Mombasa.  They recently made an appearance in Brazil.

It was the serendipity of travel and in-flight programming that made tracking Invader’s mosaics one of the themes of my Paris trip this summer.  Without even trying, I saw the extent of the Paris Invasions everywhere I walked in Paris.  Invader’s use of tiles to mimic the pixels of these early computer graphics is brilliant.  They bring color and whimsy to some otherwise staid walls and street corners in Paris.  The locations for the mosaics seem random, but apparently are chosen and mapped out strategically, using diverse criteria, which may be aesthetic, strategic or conceptual.  Locations are as highly visible as around the corner and across the street from the Sacre Coeur

and as hidden as on what would seem to an outsider (like me) as the middle of nowhere.   Typically, mosaics are located 10 to fifteen feet above the ground, within the normal gaze of a passing pedestrian.

along Barbes-Rochechouart

 Place du Tertre, Montmartre
down the street from Le Cordon Bleu
Belleville, the artsy and eclectic neighborhood in the 19th arrondisement is full of a wide variety of street art. I found several Invaders here.  (And check back soon to see more on the vibrant street art of Belleville.)
This one, while different from the rest of the pack as a non Space Invader, was my favorite back in the day and still my favorite now, Q-Bert:

I spotted him in Le Marais.
Have you seen any Invasions? Where?
Did you play any early video games? What was your favorite?

9 responses

  1. I wish I had known about this when I was there last year. Very cool. I can’t wait to read about Belleville, a good friend of mine told me to go there but we never managed to fit it in. Now I’m kicking myself.
    And, I LOVE Nurse Jackie. Can’t wait for the next season to start, even though they aren’t even done filming it yet. Also just watched the Bill Cunningham film with Andrew on a rainy afternoon and we both totally enjoyed it.

    • Hi Jenny! I think next time, we should go to Paris together. I’m glad you’re curious about Belleville; good motivation to write that post soon.
      But seriously, why is Nurse Jackie so addictive? Glad you’re a fan, too.

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  6. oh darn! i was there last year and i don’t think i spied any space invaders 😦 i shall keep my eyes open extrawide on my next trip! but sometimes if you look too hard, you don’t see it, rt? :p

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