Olivia Walters, These Hidden Streets
June 3, 2017
Last December Lab 14 showcased a dystopian maze of graffiti, movable installations, and sculptures in the Montpartnasse district of Paris in what was once a post-office. Close to fifty artists participated in a project fully-aware of its expiration date just three months later. To some, an ephemeral concept that sought to push urban art beyond its structural limitations, wrote Clémentine Gallot for Libération. Still, the whole sequence honored a grungy ethos in one delicious moment of self-declaration: This is hell on earth and we’re here to welcome you in all of its beautiful impermanence.
Inside Lab 14
I had the pleasure of visiting the exposition a little after New Year’s on the happenstance occasion of accidental discovery. That’s right, Google didn’t tell me anything about it, nor did any French people divulge the secret of the art gallery recently opened in an old post-office in the 14th arrondissement. What’s more, I got to it before any of the French press wrote reviews raving about the happy marriage between La Poste and street art, said the journalists at Le Monde on February 2.
a nightmare that kept coming back with twisted satisfaction.
On the first floor
After paying 2 € for entry, the ground floor gallery appeared as any other off-the-wall presentation, one not trying too hard to shock the public but still conscious of its ability to disturb an unsuspecting mind. A long, dimly-lit corridor led to a room where
paintings of Gremlins and geometric structures among the likes of Seize HAPPYWALLMAKER (see left) quenched the spectator’s tongue with a futuristic thirst for more.
The opening works presented at Lab 14 were edgy, but didn’t satisfy. I wanted Parisian art that scarred; that gave me a pain to take home, or at least a hallucinatory visit to the extraterrestrial and back. Something to remember.
Up until that point, nothing besides the aerosol fumes corroding my lungs from all of the graffiti had done that.
It became evident that the building was intentionally being unkempt from the trashy, dilapidated state of the whole place. From what I gathered at the entrance, artists were taking residence in the space just until the end of February, after which Lab 14 would be no more once the bulldozers came through to demolish it. Under the guise of an artist-to-viewer experience, the exposition seemed, for all intents and purposes, curiously innocent. The public had the unique opportunity to watch the artists’ works transform week after week, with ample chance to directly engage with the artists should they make themselves available. Seems cool, right?
Yet the ascent to the second floor would later prove to be a nightmare that kept coming back with twisted satisfaction.
To the second floor
A staircase contrasted with pieces of colorful wood jutting upwards brought me to a plastic curtain hanging from a doorway. Parting the strips, I had to wonder if I was actually in the back of some butcher shop where at any moment a man wearing the head of boar would step in front of me, brandish his rusty cleaver, first give me a heart attack, and then make me his next grind. But no, that just would have been too easy.
The room was a junction point from which the artists’ studios branched off in all directions, but ultimately lead to a dead-end. I remember feeling like I had crudely entered without permission inside a residence where squatters were doing meth. In reality, talented artists were up there doing stuff beyond my expectations.
Offices morphed into magic
Each room had something new to offer. In one, a giant robot with a body made up of old Sony Tvs. Another with solar panels on the floor reflecting aqua-marine neons onto the ceiling from intermittent, flashing bulbs. One with nothing but a table and two chairs (see top); the artist was performing a light trick that made the inside seem red from the outside, but upon entering the room, the eye was fooled and natural light from the window revealed nothing out of the ordinary. Something akin to Kubrick’s The Shining.
The succeeding installations had something even more chaotic in store for me than the next. For better or worse, I got my 2 € worth, and when I left, the disquieting churn of acid in my stomach gave me a pre-vomit sensation, but settled out into nothing but an electric rush.
//Header photo creds: LJU