“The question of whether or not we are alone in the universe has been answered.” Tiny alien spaceships have, for some time now, been positioning themselves in the largest inhabited centres of our planet. The response to the apocalyptic dilemma of the film Independence Day quoted above, has now been confirmed in Rome, which – after Paris, London, Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Istanbul and Kathmandu – has been hit by: Invaders.
During the torrid Roman summer these spaceships have been appearing suddenly on street corners, walls and buildings – you might even have spotted one whilst queuing for the Vatican Museums and asked yourself what it was. These are not really the works of aliens but they are the work of Invader, the mysterious urban artist from Paris whose street art is inspired by the cult video game from the 1970s and 1980s: Space Invaders. His pieces are small (and not so small) mosaic works of art made from multi-coloured squares. The designs, based on the graphics in the afore-mentioned game, are well suited to the technique of mosaic (one pixel = one mosaic square).
This urban invasion has an official website, www.space-invaders.com, which details the places in which the French artist has worked, or rather conquered, with information on the materials used and an interesting photographic gallery. He works incognito and has no intention of revealing his identity. With the possible exception of a police force or two which has arrested him for defacing public property, nobody knows who he is.
He started his invasion back in 1998 in his home town, Paris, which is still in pole position for the most invaded city to date. His choice of location for the mosaics is not accidental but is based on the following criteria: aesthetic, strategic or conceptual. He always works alone and each piece is unique. In using the common kitchen or bathroom tile he can be assured that his work is totally weather-proof and able to withstand any climatic extremes. Sizes tend to be roughly 20cm x 30cm but there are larger ones too.
Once he has chosen his target he sets up camp for two or three weeks to familiarise himself with the city and to find the right inspiration. It’s not an SAS in-and-out-as-fast-as-he-can type of mission, and in terms of location he often favours the obscure over the obvious. Try to spot the mosaics in Tor Pignattara. He is highly self-critical and even awards himself points (from 10-50) upon completion of his various creations, taking into account size, composition, location and difficulty. And even though he gets no financial reward – in effect he is donating his art to the people – Invader seems to take pleasure from the fact that his work is seen by so many. Certain Invader fans who follow him on internet or, indeed, around the globe, occasionally go too far and decide they would like one of his pieces for themselves. Fortunately the cement Invader uses is strong and does not easily come away from the walls, however the action of trying to remove the tiles results in damage to the art and a few chipped tiles coming away in pieces.
Rather than a man of hidden talents, Invader is a hidden man of talents with several interesting ongoing and developing projects such as his ‘Rubikcubism’. He decided upon the name himself and it entails creating art by manipulating Rubik’s Cubes and then arranging them together to create large images. One of his recent projects involved producing a series of these ‘Rubikcubisms’ based on the Mona Lisa, the Dali Lama and several Pop Art icons. These pieces are constructed solely from multiple Rubik’s Cubes, each cube being turned until the desired effect is achieved. The method is very precise: first the image is drafted out on paper, then Invader begins twisting cube after cube until all the cubes have revealed the required colour co-ordinations – thus creating light and shade in a wonderful 3D effect. Invader cannot cheat by peeling off the sticky coloured squares because unlike the western cubes I remember at school, he uses the Chinese version where each colour-square is solid plastic. He prefers the overall finish which is more glossy. He does not dismantle and reconfigure them either – for our expert it’s no quicker, as he has learned to twist a cube in a matter of seconds – about 10 in fact.
Another interesting development is his idea of working with QR Code Data Matrix, the next generation in barcoding. Normally the vertical lines of a barcode correlate to a series of numbers (which then usually give a price). QR codes contain real data such as actual words, hyperlinks, contact information, and it is possible to scan these QR coded images with a cell phone with IMatrix software. As if by magic what seems to be an abstract piece of art turns into words, which appear on the cell phone screen. This mix of lo-tech/hi-tech appeals to Invader. He mixes simple tiles with hi-tech IMatrix to create unique, abstract, aesthetic works of art. Invader demonstrated this with his iphone (having installed the necessary software first). He took a photo of one of his QR coded pieces of art and there on the screen appeared the words “This is an invasion”.
Invader is already in Rome as an artist in residence – one of three artists taking part in the Living Layers project. The aim of this experimental and innovative project is to appraise works of art which, in some way, interact directly with (or contaminate) their surroundings, thus becoming an integral and inextricable part of that landscape – or in Invader’s case, cityscape.
Overseeing the project is the Wunderkammern Cultural Association which agreed to three guest artists in residence working in studios in their premises for three months. The results of their efforts culminate in three individual exhibitions.
Invader’s inauguration is set for 23 October at 18.00, but I suspect – if he is present at all – he will be in disguise!
See how many alien invaders you can spot around the city (for a head-start go to Google maps, insert Invader and see what comes up).
For further information on the Living Layers project visit: Wunderkammern, Via Gabrio Serbelloni 124 – 00176 Roma, tel. 0645435662. www.wunderkammern.net