January of 2004 was frigid. There’d just been a huge snowstorm, and the sidewalks of Long Island City — such as they are — were frozen over with a solid layer of ice, like a skating rink. I had just moved into an arts collective called Flux Factory, on 43rd Street between the Sunnyside Rail Yards and the Pathmark supermarket on Northern Boulevard*.
“See that Space Invader looking thing kind of over next to the front door?” my new friend and roommate Phunquey asked.
“Yeah,” I said.
“It was made by this French guy who goes around the world putting them up, like graffiti but made of tiles. In any city you can look up in some random place, and you’ll notice one.”
Space Invader, or just Invader, as he’s known around the art world, had done a residency at Flux Factory the previous summer and christened the building with his work. I might have seen them around New York before then, or the tile installations might have been yet another addition to the guerilla public art I was beginning to be fascinated by. People like Banksy or Shepard Fairey, or an artist I dubbed Neck Face after his tags around the East Village. The mysterious phrase “Egg Yolk” was scrawled on the mailbox near my old apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn. The era of the anonymous street artist had arrived.
Seven years later I was in Rome, visiting my college friend Gillian. We wandered the eternal city, visiting the house of the Vestal Virgins, churches filled with Caravaggio paintings, and a Victorian gelateria decorated like a marble birthday cake. Here and there amid the centuries, Gillian would say, “hey, look, it’s a Space Invader!”
The futuristic pixels of grafitti were a perfect match for Rome’s aggressive pastiche of different millennia. Tile is an old medium, cold and hard but still organic. And the Invader designs themselves are somehow both forward-focused and backwards-looking.
No city is a better setting for an Invader than Paris, however. As the artist’s home base, according to Wikipedia (of all places) it’s “the most Invaded city to date.” The following video, made by Raphael Haddad with music by Toby Screamer, follows the faceless Invader through the streets of Paris as he installs several new pieces under cover of darkness. It’s weirdly visceral, almost surgical, with quick cuts of Invader applying mortar and caulk, placing his ladder, slapping tiles into place, ripping off the protective plastic coatings, et voila! Paris is Invaded yet again.
*By the way, Flux Factory lives on in a new Long Island City space, on 29th Street. You should check them out!