It’s the glare in the sun: suddenly something sparkles in the street, in the middle of a grubby part of Rue Quincampoix in Paris. It is a manhole cover in the road surface. But then with red, pink, gold and yellow mini tiles. Like a mosaic. The stones are 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 who walks by. “It’s beautiful. It brightens up the whole street!” Less than a hundred meters away, another mosaic can be seen, with yet other colors. And if you look carefully, you can find much more.
In the video you can see how our correspondent comes across more and more, each even more beautiful than the other:
The cheerful works of art are thanks to Ememem, an artist from Lyon. And: a completely anonymous artist. He or she does not want to appear on screen and even a radio interview is out of the question.
Ememem only answers questions by email. “What I make? Call it sidewalk poems. Or: declarations of love to passers-by. Or: first aid for injured streets”, is the written answer. Personal details? “I’m not going to say anything about my age or gender, just let people’s imaginations run.”
It all started five years ago, in Lyon, where Ememen was working at the time. “There was a hole in the road in front of my workshop. I repaired that hole, with a kind of checkerboard of black, pink, gray and blue stones. That was in February 2016. I looked at it for weeks and then I understood that something had I did what I would do for the rest of my life.”
From Madrid to Stavanger
But what do you call something like that: filling potholes artistically? Ememem coined a new word for it. The French word flaque (pit) was conjugated in English with -ing and that’s how it came about flacking.
And flackingEmemem only does that at night. With stones, tiles and tools, the artist takes to the street to work in silence and in the dark. “I live at night. I like the atmosphere. It’s intimate. That’s good because I want to remain anonymous.”
And it is not without merit for someone who has only been going out in the dark for a few years. The mosaics can now be seen in streets in his home city 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 on display at the prestigious Galerie Italienne in Paris.
“What makes Ememem 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. The matter, the colours, the shapes: they almost form a piece of music, it is that harmonious and tasteful.”
It is then 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 is starting. We asked Ememem to make something especially for our exhibition, so for the exhibition space. And collectors have already come who are now buying his work.
‘Mother Teresa of Sidewalks’
Daguet Bresson has met Ememem, but he hardly wants to say anything about it and smiles evasively at every question. “It’s all very mysterious. We know little. The mystery is part of Ememem’s character.”
So again ask questions by email, to the artist himself. What does Ememem want? Repair the street or present art to the public? “I don’t have a goal. What I do is a condition. It’s passion. I do it aimlessly and tirelessly”, is the email back.
And that anonymity? “I want to remain anonymous, just like superheroes from comics. That way people can let their imagination run wild. For those who want to know who I am: a child of the asphalt. Or the Mother Teresa of badly treated pavements. Or a poet of the tar. Take your pick.”