Wrinkles of the City

16 Mar — 13 May 2017 at Galerie Perrotin in Paris, France

Wrinkles of the City, Exhibition view. Courtesy of galerie Perrotin
Wrinkles of the City, Exhibition view. Courtesy of galerie Perrotin
22 MAR 2017

Perrotin gallery, Paris, is happy to present from March 16 to May 13, 2017 the screening of “WRINKLES of The CITY Istanbul”, a movie by Guillaume Cagniard on JR’s project. The artworks made within the project will be exhibited beside the screening.

In 2000, I was seventeen years old. The television, the telephone, internet and low-cost travel would open new horizons.

By my side, I had my two grandmothers, born in 1915 and 1923. They were telling me about their childhood spent on two different continents, their husband who had been chosen for them by their parents. One spoke to me of decolonization which had transformed her country, the other of the war which had obliged her to run away, alone with her son. One mentioned her choice to work when women were supposed to stay at home, the other of her difficulty to learn French. They told me about 100 mile journeys prepared over several weeks, about their world where roles were defined at birth, and where religion took the role of morality. They baked me cakes with dates, flour and oil, or small and very simple biscuits.

The women who looked after me were seventy years older than me. In the end, I think that it was rather me who took care of them. Obviously, one does not carry out a project, one does not travel the world and one does not write a book simply to be able to inscribe: “To my grandmothers with whom I grew up”, however at the time when I added these words, this idea came to my mind.

With them, I crossed the twentieth century, I shared their secrets, I was in touch with sexism, racism, fear, stupidity, war, difference, submission, revolt, success, exile, failure, sadness and joy and I wanted to continue travelling in the past.

The project Wrinkles of the City / Des rides et des villes started in 2008 in Cartagena in Spain and then moved to Shanghai, Havana, Los Angeles, Berlin and Istanbul. Each of these cities has experienced metamorphosis during the last decades, leaving only walls and old people to tell their stories. I wanted to confront the facades with the people, the collective history with the individual’s narratives. The women and men whom I met are thus the last witnesses of the attack of Cartagena by Franco in 1939, of the rise to power of Fidel Castro in Cuba in 1959, of the Chinese cultural revolution from 1966 to 1976, of the end of racial segregation in the Unites States in the 1960’s, of the fall of Hitler in 1945 and the separation of Germany until 1989, of the secularization of Turkey (the rise to power of the Islamists in 1994 will put an end to it). When they are gone, there will only be written or filmed versions of their stories. Via them, one sees the passing of the major movements which structured the twentieth century: fascism; communism; Nazism; the fight for civil rights; decolonization; the Cold War and capitalism. One senses the events which start to shake the twenty-first century.

Of course, they themselves have an altered vision of their journey. Amongst the people who we interviewed few were on the wrong side of History. At a certain age, you rewrite your own past. No one admitted to being fascist under Franco in Spain or segregationist in the United States. Those who were often in the majority in those days are perhaps more reticent towards being in front of a camera to tell their life story compared to those who were victims or heroes.

In a few minutes, they tell us who they are, what they have done and what seems interesting to them. The interviews are always too short. How can one summarize an entire life in a few sentences? What are the joys and the sorrows for which time can not erase its trace? Ultimately, what really matters?

To record their memory, which coincides with that of their city, I took the wrinkles of those who have seen their world undergo metamorphosis. In photographing them, I listened to their life. Those who spent time with my team and me responded to questions, sometimes vocal, sometimes embarrassed or reserved. However wrinkles never lie. Like lines written by hand, some radiate from the eyes like stars, others cross the forehead harmoniously, like waves. Each chapter is a moment of their life, an echo of all that these characters had endured during their lives. When I had finished turning over the pages of their book, I pasted them on walls with paper and glue.

In each city, the stories had local flavor and some stay with me. In Istanbul, I want the diversity of the city to be represented in my photos. We look for a Kurd and a Jew. It is exactly one hundred years since the Armenian genocide and I want to find an Armenian from Istanbul. In the Grand Bazar, we met some delightful people however they are not comfortable to share their life story or to be glued in large format on the walls. One century after the events of 1915, fear is still present.

I never tire of the walls which ask the passersby questions. What does this man think of when he closes his eyes? What are the first images which come to mind amongst the millions which have marked his life? Why does this woman have a sad gaze and yet the faint beginning of a smile?

My own wrinkles, those which are in the process of forming, what will they say about my life?