Living Nightmare

Horror of horrors, a few days ago the biggest gathering of ‘living statues’ (those people who paint themselves silver and standstill for hours in public places) took place in the UK. This was a PR stunt to celebrate the opening of a new public square in London. In modern cities, this should be celebrated. It’s a rare thing when we create open space in a thriving metropolis. Earlier this year, riots broke out in Turkey when the authorities threatened to redevelop Gezi Park in Istanbul. Gezi Park was one of the last open spaces in the Beyoğlu district of the city and people fought to stop a shopping mall being built on it.

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My point I hear you ask? Well, Saatchi, the PR company behind the opening of the new Kings Cross Square (Kings Cross Station of Harry Potter fame) decided that this would be a good way of celebrating the ‘public art’ aspect of the new space. Really, really? Is that all they could think of? In a city that prides itself on the quality of its culture and artistic credentials, this is all they could do? You might have gathered I am no fan of these silver people who seem to inhabit cities across the globe. In fact I have voiced this here before in my post Hands Up and if I had been confronted by all these ‘statues’ on my daily commute to work I would have surely been arrested for physical abuse. They are a distraction, nothing more. There is no skill involved here!

However, I did raise a smile when I read this in The Atlantic, by Fergus O’Sullivan. A very French way of dealing with a problem. I applaud it!

Nighttime Revelers in Paris Get Shushed By a Bunch of Silent Clowns

Perhaps we’ve been getting this nighttime noise thing all wrong. Cities don’t need more police on the streets or tougher licensing laws to keep nightlife manageable. What they really need is a bunch of silent clowns to hush people with their fingers as they creep by on stilts. This is the approach being tried by Paris’ Pierrots de la Nuits, at least.

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Patrolling the city since March last year, this group of mute, sad-faced, black and white-clad mediators stalk the city’s busy bar strips on weekend nights, gently encouraging people to drink, smoke and chat at a lower volume. Usually never uttering a word (though followed by leaflet-distributing “mediatisers”), the Pierrots work under a slogan not easy to translate snappily: “Create atmosphere without turning up the volume.” Their leader explained their intentions to Le Bonbon Nuit magazine thus:

We want to offer a moment of poetry, of dreaming…many emotions happen, at times even people come to cry in our arms. The only condition is that our artists are silent: mimes, actors, breathers of poetry, circus artists or stilt-walkers

Behind the artistic gloss, of course, the Pierrots have a serious task. The group’s 40-odd performers have actually been funded by Paris’s City Hall following a city-wide forum on Paris by night in 2010. With the smoking ban pushing more people out of doors and residents associations in its gentrified core getting more vocal about noise control, Paris (like many European cities) has been dealing with both louder streets than ever and the closure of bars and clubs under pressure.

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Given their official associations, some have seen the Pierrots as quasi-official enforcers, killjoys and even “false pacifists” according to one interviewee in Le Monde. The group claim, however, that their interventions are not about stopping people going out at all, but preventing yet more bars being shut down by the city due to noise complaints.

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Looking at this video [below] of the Pierrots on patrol, they come across as charming and gentle. They also seem to be effective, as performers claim that people who interact with them do indeed tend to lower their voices a few decibels. Of course, this airy, artsy approach to crowd control might strike some people as just too damn French for its own good (though it was actually inspired by similar efforts in Barcelona), but their relative success nonetheless speaks well of French restraint. Sadly, I fear that any performers trying something similar in a British city would end up getting glassed sooner or later. And while many people claim to find mimes annoying, watching a man trying to an escape from an imaginary box in spooky make-up is a hell of a lot less tiresome than seeing him in regular clothes screaming about how wasted he is.

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For those of you reading this in Hong Kong, I was wondering how this would go down in Lan Kwai Fong on a Saturday evening?

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