polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

The Unsual Suspects: Micro-societies Around Two Museums

by Min Li Chan

I cannot help but be intrigued and somewhat bewildered by the confluence of communities around the neighboring museums of Palais de Tokyo and Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris.

Go around the front and you'll see the twin signs and their distinguishing choices of materials and typographies, married by virtue of their shared location but separate in their respective artistic charters and operations:
But approach it from the back and you're greeted by a popular skateboard convention where boys on skateboards, graffiti and sculpture intersect — the only explanation offered by a neon sign declaring "Respublica" (the commonwealth, the republic, or most literally meaning “a public matter”), hovering over the skateboarding communion:

Venture around the side and you'll see artist Robert Milin's Le Jardin Aux Habitants (The Inhabitant's Garden), where Milin granted plots of land to amateur gardeners to fashion in their own aesthetic and personality:

If you're sufficiently curious to sneak upstairs past the visitor barricade at the Palais, you'll encounter a sanctuary on the roof — a pavilion designed as a meeting and collaborative incubation space for a micro-society of artists and designers. As French painter, filmmaker and photographer Ange Lecia describes it (translated from French):
So the special feature of the Pavillon is that it offers young artists and curators collaborative projects. One of the objectives of this laboratory is the establishment of a group that is encouraged to work together during its residency. But inside that micro-society, each individual goes his/her own way. Therefore the challenge is for the various personalities who have been brought together to understand one another in the context of a joint project. From this point of view the Pavillon is a utopia. Sometimes a utopia that offers a rough ride, but one that has the merit of confronting the reality of what defines a community : the tensions and misunderstandings, as well as the affinities and collusions. In spite of these difficulties, the Pavillon is a place that believes life’s richness lies more than ever in its diversity.
The artists' rooftop pavilion:

There's a paradox of both the collective and the individual inherent to these three intersecting micro-communities: the strength in numbers in a group of skateboarders, engaged in what is a very individually styled art of doing tricks on a two-wheeled board; the commune of amateur gardeners asked to fashion a plot of land in their own individual choosing; the collaborative charter of artists-in-residence at the pavilion where each is nonetheless also inspired to go his or her own way. (Then there's the unmentioned community of tourists and visitors such as myself, watching quietly as all this unfolds).

Perhaps the common thread that binds these three disparate communities is a sense of pride in one's craft, be it the consummate skill and derring-do of a skateboarder, the passion of an amateur gardener, or the work of a professional artist. A lovely expression in Japanese embodies all this: shokunin kishitsu or the craftsman's spirit, appealing to all of us, regardless of vocation, to aspire to beauty in everything we do and create.

Credits: Photos by Min Li Chan.