It‘s the glare in the sun: suddenly something sparkles on the street, in the middle of a dirty part of Rue Quincampoix in Paris. It’s a manhole cover in the road surface. But with red, pink, gold and yellow mini tiles. Like a mosaic. The stones look shiny and radiant, elegant and symmetrical, rotating with the round shape of the manhole cover.
“I‘ve never seen it before while I live here,” says a girl walking by. “It’s beautiful. It cheer up the street!” Within a hundred metres away, you can see a mosaic, with other colours. And those who are looking for good can find a lot more.
The video shows how our correspondent encounters more and more, one more beautiful than the other:
The cheerful artworks are due to Ememem, an artist from Lyon. And: a completely anonymous artist. He or she does not want to appear in the picture and even a radio interview is excluded.
Answering questions Ememem only does by email. “What I make? Call it pavement poems. Or: declarations of love to passers-by. Or: first aid to wounded streets” is the written answer. Personal details? “I‘m not going to tell you about my age or gender, let people’s imagination work.”
It all started five years ago, in Lyon, where Ememen worked at that time. “In front of my workshop there was a hole in the way. I fixed that hole, with some sort of checkerboard made of black, pink, grey and blue stones. That was February 2016, and I looked at it for weeks and then I understood that something I would have done for the rest of my life.”
From Madrid to Stavanger
But what do you call such a thing: artful pits filling? Ememem came up with a new word for it. The French word flaque (pit) was conjugated in English with -ing and that‘s how flacking arose.
And flacking, Ememem does that only at night. With stones, tiles and tools, the artist takes the streets to work in silence and in the dark. “I live at night. I love the atmosphere. It’s intimate. That‘s good because I want to stay anonymous.”
And it’s not going to be undeserving for someone who‘s only going out in the dark for a few years. The mosaics can now be seen in streets in his hometown of Lyon, the Paris and Sète region, and outside France in Madrid, Barcelona, Turin, Genoa, Stavanger (Norway) and Aberdeen (Scotland).
First own exhibition
The work has been exhibited in several galleries in Paris and Lyon. Last month, the mosaics were featured at the prestigious Galerie Italienne in Paris.
“What Ememem makes is street art, but in a completely new way. Very 21st century,” says Florian Daguet Bresson, who curated the exhibition in Paris. “Ememem fills small missing pieces of public space with art. Matter, colours, shapes: they almost form a piece of music, so harmonious and tasteful.”
It may be street art, but it should also be exhibited, says Daguet Bresson. “The public space was Ememem’s first exhibition space: everyone could and can see the mosaics there for free. But now a new phase begins. We asked Ememem to make something special for our exhibition, for the exhibition space. And collectors have already come who buy his work now.
“Mother Teresa of sidewalks”
Daguet Bresson met Ememem, but he hardly wants to say anything about it and smiles evasingly at every question. “It‘s all going very secretive. We don’t know much. The mystery is part of Ememem‘s character.”
So ask questions by email, to the artist himself. What does Ememem want? Repairing the street or presenting art to the public? “I have no purpose. What I do is a condition. It’s passion. I do it aimlessly and tirelessly”, is emailed back.
And anonymity? “I want to stay anonymous, just like superheroes from comics. This way people can let their own imagination run. Who wants to know who I am for: a child of the asphalt. Or the Mother Teresa of ill-treated sidewalks. Or a tar poet. Just choose.”