Flash Space Invaders: Expand Your Paris Exploration
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For years, near a favorite hotel bar on Paris’s Rue Dauphine, I noticed a tile mosaic of Star Wars characters Chewbacca and C-3PO high on the side of a building. Chewbacca’s arms are raised upward as if celebrating a success while C-3PO looks on arms akimbo. I learned to enjoy the duo even more when I discovered that not only was the street art by a French artist known as Invader, but proved it by using the artist’s app Flash Invaders. I took a picture (called a “flash”) of the mosaic, the app determined it was authentic and I earned my first 100 points.
I recently spent a couple of weeks in Paris finding Invader’s artwork, in which time I also found a new way to look at and explore the city. By searching for Invaders, I better appreciated the beauty of Paris’s buildings, their varied architecture, angles, corners and zig-zag construction between sites that left sides of buildings open to hosting the work of many street/urban artists and graffitists. In the search, I became more observant of the city and discovered hidden corners along my usual paths, walked a few new streets and expanded my Paris experience. By really looking at a neighborhood, I became more aware of its personality and spirit while finding Invader’s art.
I respect and like graffiti, even the tags on trains and autoroute barriers, because graffiti artists are just saying, “I’m here.” Modern street art seems to have overtaken the amount of tags in cities and given all street artwork more respect. Today, Paris is more tolerant and the tourism office includes tours of street art as ways to explore the city plus there are many independent street art tour guides. But using the Invader app makes finding his tile mosaics in Paris an individual act that brings the city closer to each player and takes them beyond tourist spots.
Launched in 2014, the Flash Invaders app, free in the Apple App Store, is easy to use and was very popular during the pandemic lockdown in Paris. Here’s how it works: find what looks to be an Invader, flash as if taking a picture and the app reads the details from the art and its location to confirm the art is a real Invader. If so, it adds it to your gallery and assigns points. If it’s not an Invader, it says so with a nice sense of humor. My misses have resulted in messages like “Missed. ZZZZZ!” or “Missed. Did you think it would be that easy?” If I forgot I had flashed the street art before, the witty app message is: “Already flashed, Tired today?”
“It’s fun to walk around and look for (Invader art), it’s a treasure hunt,” said Hélène, a 9-year-old Parisian and Invader fan. “I like the tiles he uses. I also like looking with them with my friends. I have more invaders than my friend Sasha.”
Invader has been invading Paris for 24 years. He started in 1998 and chose the appearance of pixelization with ceramic tiles for his Space Invaders alien art, an inspiration from the video games he played while growing up in the 1970s and 80s. Why was Space Invaders his muse?
“It is . . . about liberating Art from its usual alienators that museums and institutions can be,” says Invader on his website. “But it is also about freeing the Space Invaders from their video games, TV screens and to bring them in our physical world. . .They are the perfect icons of our time, a time where digital technologies are the heartbeat of our world.”
Graffiti has been a part of Paris since the Celtic Parisii were conquered by the Romans who renamed it Lutetia. Romans etched names and drawings on street walls and stonework and many examples can be found in museums. Modern street tagging, thanks to the invention of spray paint cans, began in the 1960s in Philadelphia and New York. It made its way to Paris and other European cities in the 1970s. Art styles and techniques changed and many street artists have become popular and their artwork sought after, such as American Jean-Michel Basquiat and British artist Banksy. There are many popular French street artists including JR, Blek le Rat, Jef Aérosol, Miss Van and the late Miss Tic (a favorite of Hélène’s).
Invader’s mosaics have expanded to include characters from Pac-Man, Super Mario Brothers, Star Wars, QR codes, Rubik’s Cubes and even pixilation of fine art, including the Mona Lisa. Out of 4,056 worldwide installations in 81 cities in 21 countries, he currently has 1,200 installations in Paris. There were many more in Paris but some were taken down because they were illegal or were stolen to collect or sell. He even invaded the Louvre years ago, but his unauthorized art has been removed.
Invader’s hits can be found throughout Paris and even Versailles. (He has invaded 24 other cities in France.) Check out the Tour Eiffel, Centre Pompidou, Palais de Tokyo, in bookstores, restaurants, bars, jazz clubs, on many of the walls and corners of every arrondissement and even on the roads to Charles de Gaulle airport. Look up into Space too. An Invader was installed on the International Space Station in 2015. Okay, that one may be hard to flash.
I was amazed at how many Invaders can be found in the Marais. I’ve walked the area often and rarely noticed them but now I’m always on the lookout. The Invaders website is helpful for finding some but being an observant Invader flâneur is just fun.
Everyone has a favorite Invader and Hélène has several.
“I like so many of them, but there is one made as a bird carrying a branch in its beak, next to the Seine, that I particularly like,” she said. “There’s also a space invader wearing a face mask that Invader made during the pandemic. Another cool one is a self-portrait. It shows Invader the artist wearing a mask, standing on a ladder, completing a mosaic space invader on a wall. Another self-portrait shows Invader running away with a ladder from a space invader he’s finished. Also, there are figures from Star Wars, like Princess Leia. You can find her on Rue Princesse in Saint Germain.”
My favorite is the Chewbacca and C-3PO I first flashed. In two weeks, I found 26 Invaders for a score of 1170 points. I’m just starting. Hélène has 512 Invaders and 15,580 points. Her first found Invader was on the Saint Michel fountain. How many times have I walked by that fountain and never seen the Invader? But when I do flash that one, I’ll raise up my arms in victory like Chewbacca, which is what I do when the app approves my Invader flashes. Like in the original game, flash those aliens.
Lead photo credit : Martha's Flash Invaders Gallery © Martha Sessums
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