Free ground for graffiti artists for
Partial completion of an urban motorway through Marseille in southern France in the early 1990s, left a substantial expanse of concrete exposed for the city’s graffiti artists to apply their signatures to – with varying levels of artistic talent. Now, contractors are busy finishing the L2 motorway and street artists have been given access to work on the walls again, but this time in a more controlled manner.
The work of teams of urban artists is now visible at a number of sites along the 9km length of the L2. A colourful and striking appearance has been added to what would otherwise weather to a dull grey even if it wasn’t gradually covered in graffiti tags. Furthermore, some positive relationships have been formed between the construction project, local artists and community groups.
The initiative is the brainchild of Société de la Rocade L2 de Marseille (SRL2) – the private sector consortium which holds a concession contract with the French Government for the design, construction, financing and operation of the L2 until 2043. The road runs in deep concrete box channels and tunnels over large parts of its journey beneath the eastern side of Marseille, which means a lot of concrete walls. Many of them are visible to surrounding residential areas, at junctions with other roads and at tunnel portals where the carriageway dives under the city.
Responsibility for the maintenance of the road lies with SRL2, so it faces a hefty bill if it’s going to be continuously cleaning graffiti from the L2 walls. But the company’s artistic initiative was not motivated purely with money in mind, says SRL2’s director general, Inouk Moncorgé. “Historically the concrete structures of the L2 have been tagged a lot, creating what many would describe as an unsightly mess. Completion of the motorway through Marseille was going to create more exposed walls, all with the potential for more tagging and its associated social problems,” Inouk says. “
A previous initiative had given artists opportunity to work on the side of buildings in the city. So we thought, why not replicate that on the L2 walls, to discourage or even prevent tagging and to forge some positive links with local artists in the community at the same time? That was our start point.”
The idea came quite early on at the start of the latest construction project, towards the beginning of 2014. Work on building the subterranean motorway progressed over the following three years, with a wide variety of different companies and organisations involved. “Whatever we were going to do, it was always going to be in partnership,” Inouk says.
Over the following months the directors of SRL2 built a working relationship for the gestation of the L2 murals project with Planète Émergences, a Marseille based artistic and cultural group. “From there, with the help of Planète Émergences, we started to build political and cultural relationships to make the project happen,” Inouk says.
Jean Faucheur for connecting with the community of street artists. His role was crucial for that.” Jean Faucheur is a prominent figure of France’s urban art scene, a founding member of The Brothers Ripoulin collective and Le M.U.R ‘renewable painted wall’ association in Paris. His work has also been exhibited on the streets of New York, but, he says, the task of artistic director for the L2 walls project presented an altogether different experience.
“As an artist, the challenges involved were new to me, as they were to just about everyone involved,” Jean says. “For the people of Marseille, the structures of the unfinished L2 had stood as a ghost and a free ground for graffiti artists for nearly 30 years.
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