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Visiting France

Street artists transform abandoned Paris nightclub ... for a while

media The façade of Les Bains Douches Daniel Finnan

Les Bains Douches was once a famous Paris nightclub and concert hall. At the beginning of 2013 a group of artists transformed the site into a creative space. Because of its decayed condition, the building was not open to the public and visitors were asked not to bring cameras. All the artwork will soon disappear. We visit the space through sound, text and the voice of curator Magda Danysz.

Originally a 19th-century bathhouse, the Bains Guerbois building in central Paris became a nightclub that hosted famous DJs and celebrities until its crumbling structure forced it to close in 2010.

It is slated to be turned into a hotel to open in 2014 but at the beginning of this year it had a short life as a residency space for street artists.

“At some point I was walking through the building and it was empty and clean, although run down and I found it very poetic and very powerful,” says owner Jean-Pierre Marois. “So I thought I should invite street artists to take over the place and use it as a canvas, the space itself.”

From January to to the end of April this year 40 artists from around the world engaged with the six-storey building, through graffiti, installations and even by altering the space itself.

“Each artist respected the building, how it was looking, but still tried to play with the space,” says the project’s curator, Magda Danysz. “This is something we don’t see so much in Paris. I know it’s not always easy for real estate people, because there are constraints, but this project can show they can do things and it’s not a mess. It can be something really good.”

“You can do something quite different that you would in an art centre, a gallery or a museum,” says French artist Jeanne Susplugas. “This freedom is great.”

The building’s hazardous condition meant it could not be opened to the public, and all these artworks are slated to disappear once renovations begin at the end of April.

“There is a certain absurdity that I like about it,” says Marois. “It might sound silly, but it’s true. It’s part of the thing, not many people can see it, it’s not going to last long but that’s what makes it beautiful in a way.”

It will not disappear without trace, though. Two photographers have been documenting the transition.

“For the photographer it’s very interesting because at least the photos will stay,” says one of them, Stéphane Bisseuil. “But it’s part of the project and I think for the artists it’s something very interesting, to work on specific pieces knowing that they will disappear. For street art, it’s an event in Paris. Nothing like this has been done before.”

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