Art meets 1980s pop culture in the urban art perpetrated by the French artist known only as Invader. This artist, whose work I first encountered on a recent visit to Paris—the place he first began—goes around the urban jungle of the world’s megacities and places large images of the creatures from the 1980 Atari videogame Space Invaders. Though not the first version of that game, it was certainly the most famous, and taught many a young person the early hand/eye coordination we all find we need in this day of Guitar Hero and Halo.
The space invaders imagery is usually placed in a famous locale, though often subtly. For instance, I found one on the back side of what remains of the artist lofts (called Le Bateau-Lavoir) that used to stand on the hill of Montmartre. Another one was in the square of Notre Dame (though it is possible that was a copycat, many of whom are now springing up. To the trained eye, there is a way to tell the difference, or so my artist friends tell me, but I couldn’t see it). I found another in a large square in the Marias district, smack dab above the lintel of a corner shop (which is the picture used in this post, in fact). You had to be looking up to see it, and willing to look away from the general business of the square, but once you looked, even casually, it drew your eye with its bright colors and large tiles.
The art, which is made of large square tiles cemented onto the wall, is reminiscent of the old mosaic style of the ancient Greeks and Romans, who used to decorate their homes and floors with pictures made of tiny colored square stones, each pieced together to make a larger image.
But what makes the Space Invader art special is not only its content or its form; it is the way that Invader keeps his identity a secret. We know it is a male artist because of interviews the artist has done, but just who this man is, know one seems to know. There are obvious reasons for this, as the art that is being done is technically defacement of private and public property and in many countries has some jail time attached. But in Paris at least, the artist and the police seem to have an understanding, and he is mostly left alone, unless caught in the act. Property owners who wake up to find a Space Invader on their exterior wall have the choice to either scrape it off a their own expense or leave it there, with little recourse to the law.
Fortunately for us, people have a sense of humor, and so many of the Space Invaders have remained in place and can be found throughout the globe. Some people have even made a game of finding all the Space Invaders, with a point system that reminds me of the old treasure hunt games of children’s birthday parties, or the new fad of geocaching. Maps to the locations can be bought at Invader’s website, and his work has even engendered several books and other paraphernalia.
For US citizens, only two cities have been invaded: New York and Los Angeles. But Europeans are more fortunate, since the Invader began in Paris, he has been all over Europe planting late night art and there are many locations you can visit.
The following is a video of one visitor’s finds of Space Invaders in Paris.
This other video claims to be a video of the Invader creating and placing one of his pieces, though because of the Invaders anonymity, there is no way to know its veracity. Still, it is an excellent example of just how Invader might be able to do his work under cover of darkness.
This is a fascinating homage to pop culture in general, and as it is mixed with community building it is certainly 21st century in sensibility. To my mind, the art of Invader is a much performance as anything, and its strange blend of danger and good-humored fun is a wonderful and unique homage to videogames.