We can see a lot of the planet, but there's even more that we can't see. 'It's the tip of the iceberg' comes from this notion that there's more yet to come, that there are hidden depths yet to be revealed. JR, France's most prominent photographic pioneer, builds on this idea in the artistic heart of Paris.
JR has long played with scale and perception, using the medium as part of the message. His highly politicised and socially challenging images gain much of their power from the way we actually experience them. It's the idea of it being an experience, so awe-inspiring in scale, so unexpected in location, that leaves a lasting impression. It's what makes JR who he is.
Building on the idea of hidden depth, of the idea that we aren't being told the whole truth and that some things will forever remain hidden, rightly or wrongly so, that the photographer has created this giant piece, using over 2000 pieces of large paper, to create an optical illusion that challenges the way we see art, its place in everyday life, and how it can alter architecture.
Constructed around the iconic glass pyramid of Paris' Louvre museum of art and culture, the photography tricks the viewer, particularly from elevated (ideally 45-degree angle) viewing points, into thinking that the pyramid has substantial subterranean dimensions, extending way down into the Earth's core.
As a spiritual predecessor from 2016's piece where the museum seemingly disappeared, this one makes it even more prominent. Pasted onto the ground with the help of 400 volunteers, the piece was never built to last, as the artist commented on his website:
"Once pasted, the art piece lives on its own. The sun dries the light glue and with every step, people tear pieces of the fragile paper. The process is all about participation of volunteers, visitors, and souvenir catchers. This project is also about presence and absence, about reality and memories, about impermanence.”
Not only where the piece is, or what its about, but its life-cycle and process too combine to become part of a whole message. One of the artist's most philosophical and thoughtful creations, it's less overtly political than his usual work, but no less emotionally resonant. For anyone who has been to the Louvre, they will know the magnetic draw that the place has. To create something in such an iconic space is a way to etch his name alongside the likes of Leonardo da Vinci whose Mona Lisa hangs only several hundred metres from the square.
JR continues to push the envelope of photography, retaining his reputation as one of its most experimental practitioners and capable minds. Playful and fun, optical illusions in art are mainly reserved for chalk drawings on pavements and Escher. It's very rare that they are used in a serious manner, yet JR has used his photography several times in this way.
What stands out the most is the idea that, for these photographs to be best understood, they must be seen in a certain way and for that to happen, they must be captured in a photograph, framed in a particular way so as to align his idea with the reality. Being there to see it personally is best, of course, but in a digital world, his choice of making such shareable content is a populist style of serious art. With this piece, we know the Louvre's pyramid is all we see, but that doesn't mean other secrets aren't hidden below the ground.
Could JR now start playing with these kinds of ideas? Making masked political commentaries through grander philosophical questions? Some might think he has, others that he's been doing it for years, only that you haven't noticed yet.
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