2015 the year... terror struck the heart of paris
Artist Anthony Stephinson reflects on how the Paris terrorist attacks changed his adoptive home.
The terror attacks in Paris on November 13th hit the beating heart of vibrant Paris: the eleventh arrondissement, where all the free and fun virtues of Western society are celebrated nightly in bars and music venues. The 11th is the epicenter of the young generation of Parisian artists and designers, who have spent the last couple of years turning their city into a new kind of creative sanctuary, home to subcultural currents once again. For the past three years, Anthony Stephinson - half of artist duo Ruiz Stephinson - has lived and worked out of the 11th, occupying the jack-of-all-art-and-fashion-trades position that this particular place in Paris encourages. In the wake of the attacks that changed 2015 and the future, i-D asked Stephinson to describe his neighborhood and what it represents to Paris and to him.
I was up a mountain visiting a healer when it all happened. An isolated part of the Pyrenees, near a small town called Prada. (Of course I took a photo of that road sign for Instagram.) It was meant to be a weekend break from my home in Paris, to come and recharge in the French countryside. Of course, I had no mobile phone service in the mountains, and cared little to even look at it, with all the breath-taking scenery. The healer in question works with bio-electromagnetics, using a machine to re-align our particles electronically, and claims to be able to heal all manner of ailments. The process was rather strange, but the aftermath was far stranger, as he chose to talk about conspiracy after conspiracy - questioning governments and claiming that terrorists would attack the younger generations because they had hope. I shrugged it off and we set off in the car back down the mountains. It was then that the texts came flooding in, asking, "Are you safe?'" "Have you seen the news?" "Stay at home." Then my battery died. It was several hours later that I discovered the horrific reality, whilst frantically replying to messages ensuring everyone of my safety.
I left London in 2012, and relocated to Paris on a whim. It was a city I was familiar with, having visited many times, but I never had any real understanding of its alien 'arrondissement' system, its politics, nor the language. My first apartment was a duplex art atelier in the 20th, north of the famous Père Lachaise cemetery (the one with Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison), which borders the 11th. It quickly became apparent that the 11th was the arrondissement I felt closest too, a home-away-from-home if you like, filled with bars and studios, creative offices, and all the things that were pushed out of the London I loved and left. I found a punk bar covered in hand scrawled graffiti, where you could sit on broken chairs with exposed springs all night drinking 3 euro pints of lager, I went to see noise musicians play in disused factory buildings, I met artists from all corners of the world congregating around this single arrondissement full of acceptance and a growing scene. France is famed for its socialist values, but this was the arrondissement where you could actually feel its heart beating in the veins of its streets.
On the surface the 11th is not a particularly touristic area of Paris despite including the Place de la Bastille, half of Nation, and half of the Place de la République. It is, however, the most densely populated arrondissement and by proxy an area for people who actually live in the city to socialize. It's full of small local businesses, and personality-driven enterprises as well as endless artist studios and design offices. I think the most touristic part of this area is the Canal Saint Martin (situated in the 10th bordering the 11th), which is legendary throughout the summer months for outdoor drinking and partying, with countless guitars and small-scale sound systems, yet very little aggression and public disorder. It's the most civilized-disorganized-open-air-festival-party of the year, every year.
Though there may not be influential galleries in the 11th itself yet, it is bordered by the most important arts districts in Paris, with the fiercely contemporary 19th and 20th just above it, and the established north Marais in the 3rd just below it. So it should come as no surprise that the 11th is the place where creatives choose to meet to socialize and occupy the terraces; a place where new thoughts are encouraged and togetherness is prevalent, and the alcohol is cheap. That being said, they almost all live there.
The 11th houses progressive PR companies and designers' studios, embodying this new youthful spirit of Paris fashion with Vetements and Jacquemus' studios sitting just outside its borders in the neighboring 10th and 3rd, respectively. The fairy godfather of progressive socialist fashion itself, Maison Margiela, is housed in the 11th - as if we needed any more proof of its credentials - next door to a Catholic church, and three streets away from a Muslim Mosque. Because, this is exactly what the 11th represents to me: total acceptance. Here, it is worth pointing out that France is officially a secular state, in that politically it is neutral in terms of religion.
This is why the attacks focusing on the 11th were so personal to me, and to us. The venues themselves were places I hold dear. I saw my first Walter Von Beirendonck show Sexclown in 2008 in the Bataclan Theater on Boulevard Voltaire, and I am accustomed to the crowds of young people queuing up for the indie and metal gigs that they host wearing ripped fishnets and home dye jobs - my local post office is next door. I mean, Voltaire himself was pro-freedom of religion and the secular state. I have sat many times on the terraces of the cafes they singled out, and will again without hesitation. My apartment block is like the United Nations, and I love it.
Already the bars are filling up again, and the 11th shows no sign of faltering. It does need to go through this healing process, and have time to recoil and gather its composure - a delightfully non-composed sort of just-got-out-of-bed composure - but that won't take much longer than the next Happy Hour.
Text Anthony Stephinson
Photography Jose Losada