Paper & Glue: “The role of the artist is to show there is something else.”
A Hop Film at Loew Auditorium on January 20
Don’t we all need this, a reprieve from nagging Covid fears and angry politics? Paper & Glue is not just an irresistible film; it’s a sliver of hope, of potential change, of joy.
JR is a pseudonym of a French street artist, photographer, cheerful subversive, and intrepid world traveler. Not only is he obsessed with the role of art in showing “there is something else,” he causes, rather than waits for, the “something else” to happen.
The film opens with the determined clopping of JR’s boots then switches to an urban bike ride through the streets of Paris, and quickly plops the viewer into the surreal landscape of an American supermax prison. A group of middle-aged men who have been confined there since their teenage years are silent with suspicion as JR shakes each hand and proposes some nebulous photography project to still faces covered in tattoos. (One actually spells out “skinhead” in all caps across a bald head. Another, Kevin, as we come to know him, sports a swastika on one cheek.) There are plenty of “money shots” in this film, but the one that stays with me (no spoiler) is a shot taken by a drone after JR and company work their magic in the blood-stained prison yard.
JR started as a street tagger in Paris whose art grew to include photography. He pastes enormous copies of his photos on any unlikely surface that strikes his fancy, has been compared to the artist Christo but with a paste bucket instead of fabric. A notable work that saturated social and other media was his photograph of a gigantic baby peering over the fence at the US-Mexico border. (Giants, Kikito (2015). Then there was the astonishing optical illusion he created to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Louvre’s glass pyramid, quickly made ephemeral by thousands of tourists’ feet.
The real art is not the paper and glue, however. As he says in the film, “the process is what matters.” He lives for the interchange he fosters among those who participate in his projects: prisoners, dwellers near the border, forgotten inhabitants in the slums outside of Paris and Rio de Janiero. With a strange blend of humility and audacity, JR moves the margins and those who dwell there straight to the center.
Paper & Glue will be shown at the Hopkins Center’s Loew Auditorium on January 20, presented in conjunction with Dartmouth’s MLK observance. Click here for further information. The film may also be available in various places online, but alas, my viewing was chopped into segments with commercials. It belongs on the big screen.
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And in case you are wondering . . . Susan B. Apel shuttered a lifelong career as a law professor to continue an interest (since kindergarten) in writing. Her freelance business, The Next Word, includes literary and feature writing; her work has appeared in a variety of lit mags and other publications including Art New England, The Woven Tale Press, The Arts Fuse, and Persimmon Tree. She connects with her neighbors through Artful, her blog about arts and culture in the Upper Valley. She’s in love with the written word.