In 2010 Lek discovers an abandoned supermarket condemned to demolition. This spot with no tag at all is a godsend and leads to the "Mausolée" project.
The Mausoleum at the time of 'Immaculate Conception' - Photo : ClickClaker
Lek & Sowat are the first to invest this place, situated very next to Paris, with some other fellow writers. Very soon they both have the idea to turn it into an artistic illegal residence inside which some graffiti artists and photographers (40 painters for 40,000 m²) will be invited to play a part in the evolution of what will become the "Mausoleum".
A few months later, a gorgeous book is released (Editions Alternatives), and the secret that was kept so well during all this time is brought to light.
The choice of a French editor was symbolical, says Sowat : « The project took place in Paris, with French artists, in a building which was squatted and cleared out by the police, so in a way it reflected a French social, political and human drama. The traces of life we found inside, the writings on the walls, the abandoned letters and schoolbooks were mostly in French. There was no sense for us to try to convince a foreign editor. As we already knew Alternatives as we worked with them for previous books, we knew they were not the kind of editor to lay a hand on the contents to the detriment of the project".
Coming out of a meeting at the end of October 2011 with Charlotte Gallimard, Head of Alternatives, things went very fast. After non-stop work, the book was published 6 months later.
The FatCap team also wanted to visit this playground to share with you what can be considered as an authentic underground museum.
A view of the roof with Apotre, Lek & Sowat
You do not enter the Mausoleum as in a cemetery. Even if you fancy rock-climbing, you will come out from this place with a few aches, bruises and have shivers. The spot is definitely not a piece of cake, and you can easily imagine what the artists and photographers who regularly went into this 4-floor blockhaus have experienced during the year 2011. Once you pass the disused railway, dozens of trash bags and some sinister-looking faces, you find yourself climbing onto a case full of dirty clothes found down there, trying to reach the top of a thick metal door full of peaks, stuck between barbed wire and rusty fence.
Claustrophics should be advised to go on their way and photographers to carry a flashlight and a tripod with them! Lek & Sowat will be the two ubiquitous guides in this upward trip along the steps of dark and gloomy stairs. There, on the forecourt, you are still "Outside" (L'Outsider).
In these few square meters made of trash and vegetation stands a spiral staircase colored by Lek. It goes nowhere as the door has been sealed.
At the back of the yard is an ancient air-conditioning system painted by Lek et WXYZ (1984) - (Patchwork photo processing!)
A narrow staircase full of garbage goes to a half-opened door, to the basement. With a torch, you feel your way along total obscurity, until you find a fire door opening to a dark empty space. A rectangular hole in the wall leads to the heart of the Mausoleum itself: a skylight gave birth to a circular garden where Lek, Sowat, Seth and Dem189 mixed their styles to paint a real masterpiece.
Seth's 3 vanitas, such as tutelary goddesses, seem to watch over the central concrete tombstone, maybe sheltering the remains of an anonymous pharaoh.
With its mossy ground and two small trees, this garden is a peace haven, the only lung of the building where you can rest to admire the details of the collective artwork before returning into the dirty, dark and smelly labyrinth.
Another staircase painted by Lek appears as a colourful touch of light in a rectangular shape, with railings at its top wide open on the street. You can hear the noises from outside, but you have to hide.
The "Monster" from the shoal (the word "monster" is written) painted by Dem189 echoes the one at the 1st floor. Like a signboard, it invites the visitors to follow the arrow.
With this book, one of the authors’ motivations was to reach people who traditionally have no interest in graffiti, even despise it, and in a way they feel they have succeeded in defying beliefs about the movement and in changing certain people’s point of view. By inviting artists having very different styles and techniques and setting up a difficult project with no sponsor, Lek and Sowat have learned a lot from the artistic and human standpoints. They became friends with some artists with whom they still work now.
At the first floor, Lek & Sowat have somewhat momified the shells and pillars with plastic and cellophane strips, working with materials and objects to create in situ installations
Light and shades constantly struggle together in the car park where black soot mingles with white paint. Sowat plays with these contrasts through his dripping downstrokes and upstrokes.
Dem189 chose a darkroom to make his string-like composition, as if he were knitting clothes...you can see black pieces of fabric hanging on a clothesline.
The red colour, a sign of life in this post-squat atmostphere, appears in distinctive touches as on this T-shaped series of pieces by Brusk & Sowat.
It is also displayed in Sowat's intricate writings...
Under the form of Lek's abstract zig zags (photo: Sowat)...
Or scattered inlays (Katre)...
Kan and Sowat seem to build up the word "Slave" (?) in the backgound. It echoes the permanent unease that you can't help feeling by walking over the multiple traces of the "slaves of poverty" who have stayed there for a while...tramps, refugees, victims of eviction have maybe lived dramas. They surely felt cold, spleen and hunger.
In order to fix their paintings into space, the artists do not hesitate to cut the wire nettings, as for this geometrical fresco by Lek, Sowat, Swiz and O'Clock (photo collage).
And when you don't keep water on hand, you can have fun with blurred effects (Monsieur Qui, Siao, Lek & Sowat).
Lek, Swiz and Outside's broken up shapes and lines seem to fit with the edges of the furniture lying on the ground.
An arrowed lettering by Fléo extends itself to the pillars around.
Manyak's vegetal 3D matches Sowat's writings, floating over a pile of waste.
"Create is to resist, to resist is create". Gilbert1 reminds us how performing art can be sometimes a battle. To express themselves, some artists have or choose to go in dirty abandoned spots when they have no legal spaces or galleries at their disposal! This sounds to be a great lesson of freedom...
No matter to recall the fact that entering in a private property is forbidden, the discovery of the spot by anyone outsider to the project before the release of the book would have broken it up! The risk of sacrilege was quite big. Meanwhile, all the participants, perfectly aware of the Mausoleum's potentiality, remained quiet as graves.
Thanks to them, it has been preserved until April 12, 2012, date of the exhibition for the official release of the book and movie showreel. Today, we can be grateful to them to share this secret with us. They give us the privilege to see a collective work entirely conceived as a whole, build up with fears and constraints, open and enigmatic, dark and colorful, successfully completed and beautiful at the same time.
If you ever wish to venture inside, we advise you to be very prudent as the access is very dangerous! Let's be foolishly optimitic and bet that the artworks will be respected as long as possible now that it "became public". We do not know yet when this concrete bunker will survive...But we do hope that the paintings will stay intact until that moment.
Romi, Bims, Rems, Skio (Ghetto Farceur Crew), Lek & Sowat
Lek and Sowat have no idea of any future project now…they noticed that the Palais de Tokyo just opened 20,000 square meters of wasteland in its building. If the director has no idea regarding the occupation of this brand new space, they are ready…He can contact them via mausolee.net, if he ever reads FatCap!
Thanks to Sowat for having answered our questions.
The players : BLO, BOM.K, BRUSK, GRIS1, JAW, KAN, SOWAT (DMV), APOTRE, WXYZ (1984), TCHEKO (LCA, 1984), LEK (LCA, RAW,1984), FLEO (GNS, TLN, TMG, LCA), SMO (SAC) - SWIZ (16T, N13, French Kiss), - DEM189, SETH (LBD) - BIMS, PAUM/SARIN, REMS, SKIO, (Ghetto Farceur), - BOYANE, BUTTERFLY, CLICKCLAKER, DOMONE, GILBERT1, HOBZ, HONDA, JAYONE (BBC), J.P, KATRE, KEBOY, MANYAK (115, DT15, GM, OPC, W73, GM), MONSIEUR QUI (132), O'CLOCK (156, LT27), OMICK, ONDE, OUTSIDE, SAMBRE (French Kiss), RES, ROM, R. SKYRONKA, SHOOK, SIAO, SPEI, THIAS, (PGC).
It is impossible in one review to display all photos and works. You will find them in the book (in French language): Mausolée, Résidence artistique sauvage by Lek & Sowat, Editions Alternatives. 256 pages, 24x34 cm. Released on April 13 2012, price 39 euros.
The Website : http://mausolee.net/
Lek is also co-author with Yko, of Nothing But Letters (Editions Alternatives / Wasted talents (2009). His works appear in Paris, de la rue à la galerie, by Samantha Longhi & Nicolas Chenus, Pyramid (2011), Hors du Temps by Antonin Giverne (aka Katre), Ed. Zoo Project (2004) and in Kapital, un an de Graffiti à Paris, Ed. Alternatives (2001).
Sowat is the author of Kapital and co-author with Lionel Olives (aka Gris1) of La France d'en bas, le graffiti dans le Sud - Editions Alternatives (2003). His works are displayed in Walls and Frames by Maximilliano Ruiz, Gestalten (2012) and Graffiti Argentina, Thames and Hudson (2007).
If you can read French: Lek et Sowat were interviewed by Canalstreet.