Written by: Marion Umpleby
One day during Paris’s second lockdown last November, I was walking home from a near-by gluten-free boulangerie, espresso in hand and banana bread safely stowed away, when I noticed a white, A4 poster pasted to the wall of an apartment building. In the centre was an image of David’s The Death of Marat (1793) and below it, a photographed recreation with a young, modern man taking the place of Marat. In the original, a wooden crate is painted with text that reads “N’ayant pu me corrompre ils m’ont assassiné” (Not being able to corrupt me, they murdered me). In the second version, the phrase had been replaced with “Not being able to confine me, they murdered me”. Other than the two images, the poster was blank save for the number 56 (the number of days in lockdown) and the name of the group behind the art: Le Parcours du Confinement (The Lockdown Journey). Ever the art historian-tourist, I took a photo and proceeded on my merry way.
In the weeks that followed, I began to notice similar posters popping up around the city. I would pause to note whatever clever lockdown-related phrase or image was featured this time: instructions for making your own mask, views of Paris from inside different apartments, a poem, or even just the all-too-relevant advice: “essayer de ne pas paniquer” (Try not to panic). The surprise encounters with these humorous, whimsical posters became a small comfort in those dreary weeks of lockdown, in which the only people I spoke to were friends on FaceTime and the woman who ran the self-checkout line at the local Monoprix. They reminded me that, despite feeling infinitely alone in the empty city, I was not the only one undergoing this experience. There were others out there going through the same thing, making art that felt a little bit like an invisible hug from an anonymous friend.
Months later, after lockdown had ended, I reached out to Le Parcours du Confinement for an interview, in an attempt to make the impalpable tangible and to express my gratitude for their work. The following is a translated version of what was discussed:
To begin, can you explain what Le Parcours du Confinement is and what you guys do?
Le Parcours du Confinement is a kind of out-door journal. We thought of it as a journey through which we could use our posters to reflect on the experience of being in lockdown.
What was the inspiration for the project? Is there a specific message or feeling that you wanted to create? Or a particular reaction that you wanted to inspire on the part of the viewer?
We had the idea during the second lockdown when we were bored and needed an adventure, a challenge. We wanted to do something illegal – it was a period where we were a bit frustrated about having nothing to do. This was also a period where, for once, we had time to take on a real project. We wanted to make something that could speak to everyone, that everyone could identify with. With this in mind, an image-based journal that reflects the things we’ve read, seen, thought about, or done during the lockdown, felt the most universal since we’ve all been going through the same thing.
How do you choose what you’re going to make each day? How far in advance do you plan? Is there a repeated theme or is every piece different?
Our process involves several stages: first, we create the posters and put them up around Paris. In general, we put up between 5 and 15 posters every night. The next day, we return to our spots to take photos. Then, we post them chronologically on Instagram every 2 to 3 days.
In regard to repetition, all of our posters have the same background with the number of the day of lockdown, and the name of the project. In terms of a theme, our work always revolves around lockdown and its repercussions.
How do you find your inspiration? Are there specific artists that inspire you?
We get inspiration from our personal journals, but also from everything that we read, see, do, talk about, think, and eat. Some of our close friends have also contributed ideas and photos that we’ve used in the project. In terms of street art, we really have our own style and want to create something new. But at the same time, our posters have a huge amount of references to other artworks such as The Death of Marat by David and the Richard Kelly’s film, Donnie Darko.
Have people already given you feedback on the project?
The feedback has been really positive, either from our close friends or on Instagram. Sometimes we also see people taking photos of our posters in the street, and even posting them on their stories or tagging us on Instagram.
I love the addition of a playlist to one of your pieces. Did you have a specific theme in mind for the music you chose?
It’s a collaborative playlist that we made with our friends during the first lockdown. There was no specific inspiration, but everyone added their favourite songs or whatever they were listening to at the time. This allowed us to discover new songs and artists during a period where it was so easy to go around in circles.
Is the Le Parcours du Confinement your first experience making street art? What is the process for putting your work in the street? Has the curfew made that process more difficult?
Yes and no. Two of us work on the project, one of us already has experience making street art for another group and doing graffiti. In terms of the process, we put the posters up in the evening or at night. The curfew has made it a little more complicated and we have to be careful when we’re outside. We manage to avoid the main roads and busy streets, we make detours, and we think of excuses for being out in advance, just in case. There have been a couple times when we’ve run into the police, but we normally see them coming. So far, all of our sessions have gone well.
In relation to the last couple of questions, what are your thoughts on street art as an artistic medium? I noticed that your Instagram bio says “Gardez l’oeil ouvert” (Keep an eye out). Can you elaborate on this message? Do you think street art plays an especially important role during COVID? How so?
We think it’s cool to use street art during COVID because it’s a time when you can’t really meet new people. It allows us to forge a connection in the sense that anyone who has lived through lockdown can see themselves in our posters. Besides, there’s not much we can do at the moment, other than walk down the street, so it made sense for us to do something that would be visible in that space. It’s enough even if our work just encourages passers-by to open their eyes and look around them in these difficult times. It helps people find art wherever they can.
What have you learned from doing this project? What have been your favourite parts and what has been the most difficult?
We’re a lot more attentive when we’re out! We recognise the work of other street artists and we look out for interesting places where we could put up our work. The whole process is cool, from making the posters to photographing them the next day. The most difficult part has maybe been the weather. We were really cold the first night we went out. Another time, it started to rain, and the posters became unstuck super easily. Our experience is very dependent on the weather.
Finally, after Le Parcours du Confinement, are there other projects on the horizon involving street art or other mediums?
We still have more ideas for Le Parcours du Confinement. We don’t really have any other projects coming up, but doing this has made us excited to do more street art just for fun!
Thank you to Le Parcours du Confinement for the interview and thank you to my neighbour, Adil, for help with the French☺