“Paris est un champ de bataille. Nous l’avions oublié” (Paris is a battlefield. We have forgotten that) notes writer and historian Max Gallo in his introduction to the Peurs sur la ville exhibition which launches tomorrow (January 20th) at the Monnaie de Paris. Throughout its history, he points out, the city has been the scene of bloody battles, invasions, uprisings and terrorist attacks, and long-lasting peace is a recent situation that we have perhaps begun to take for granted.
The show has therefore been conceived as a reminder of how fragile the peace of our cities remains. It is built around three different photographic perspectives, representing the recent past, the situation today and an imagined vision of what the future might be.
The archives of the Paris Match magazine provide the historic perspective, with photos of the liberation of Paris in 1944, the revolt in May 1968, terrorist attacks in the 1970s and more recent protests on the city streets. Although several of these photos feature dehumanised bodies laying in rivers of blood on the streets of the capital, perhaps the most powerful images are those taken in the suburbs during recent unrest. One in particular, a simple picture of the Cité des 4000 housing project in the suburb of La Courneuve is particularly striking. It is violence by architecture, and a reminder that if war comes to Paris it will most probably come from within.
The artist Michael Wolf has chosen Google’s Street View tool to give a representation of the city today. His highly pixelated images, labelled “Paris Street View,” are blown up to sizes that make them almost unrecognisable. The violence here is not physical but psychological, and we are reminded that we are all unwitting actors in the city streetscape today. The images – embracing couples, helmeted motorcyclists, wayward arms and legs – are banal, but a hint of menace floats over these creations.