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For years, near a favorite hotel bar on Paris’s Rue Dauphine, I noticed a tile mosaic of Star
Wars characters Chewbacca and C-3PO high on the side of a building. Chewbacca’s arms
are raised upward as if celebrating a success while C-3PO looks on arms akimbo. I
learned to enjoy the duo even more when I discovered that not only was the street art by a
took a picture (called a “flash”) of the mosaic, the app determined it was authentic and I
earned my first 100 points.
I recently spent a couple of weeks in Paris finding Invader’s artwork, in which time I also
found a new way to look at and explore the city. By searching for Invaders, I better
appreciated the beauty of Paris’s buildings, their varied architecture, angles, corners and
zig-zag construction between sites that left sides of buildings open to hosting the work of
many street/urban artists and graffitists. In the search, I became more observant of the city
and discovered hidden corners along my usual paths, walked a few new streets and
expanded my Paris experience. By really looking at a neighborhood, I became more aware
of its personality and spirit while finding Invader’s art.
I respect and like graffiti, even the tags on trains and autoroute barriers, because graffiti
artists are just saying, “I’m here.” Modern street art seems to have overtaken the amount
of tags in cities and given all street artwork more respect. Today, Paris is more tolerant and
the tourism office includes tours of street art as ways to explore the city plus there are
many independent street art tour guides. But using the Invader app makes finding his tile
mosaics in Paris an individual act that brings the city closer to each player and takes them
beyond tourist spots.
was very popular during the pandemic lockdown in Paris. Here’s how it works: find what
looks to be an Invader, flash as if taking a picture and the app reads the details from the
art and its location to confirm the art is a real Invader. If so, it adds it to your gallery and
assigns points. If it’s not an Invader, it says so with a nice sense of humor. My misses have
resulted in messages like “Missed. ZZZZZ!” or “Missed. Did you think it would be that
easy?” If I forgot I had flashed the street art before, the witty app message is: “Already
flashed, Tired today?”
“It’s fun to walk around and look for (Invader art), it’s a treasure hunt,” said Hélène, a 9-
year-old Parisian and Invader fan. “I like the tiles he uses. I also like looking with them with
my friends. I have more invaders than my friend Sasha.”
Invader has been invading Paris for 24 years. He started in 1998 and chose the
appearance of pixelization with ceramic tiles for his Space Invaders alien art, an inspiration
from the video games he played while growing up in the 1970s and 80s. Why was Space
Invaders his muse?
“It is . . . about liberating Art from its usual alienators that museums and institutions can
be,” says Invader on his website. “But it is also about freeing the Space Invaders from
their video games, TV screens and to bring them in our physical world. . .They are the
perfect icons of our time, a time where digital technologies are the heartbeat of our world.”
Graffiti has been a part of Paris since the Celtic Parisii were conquered by the Romans
who renamed it Lutetia. Romans etched names and drawings on street walls and
stonework and many examples can be found in museums. Modern street tagging, thanks
to the invention of spray paint cans, began in the 1960s in Philadelphia and New York. It
made its way to Paris and other European cities in the 1970s. Art styles and techniques
changed and many street artists have become popular and their artwork sought after,
such as American Jean-Michel Basquiat and British artist Banksy. There are many popular
French street artists including JR, Blek le Rat, Jef Aérosol, Miss Van and the late Miss Tic
(a favorite of Hélène’s).
Invader’s mosaics have expanded to include characters from Pac-Man, Super Mario
Brothers, Star Wars, QR codes, Rubik’s Cubes and even pixilation of fine art, including the
Mona Lisa. Out of 4,056 worldwide installations in 81 cities in 21 countries, he currently
has 1,200 installations in Paris. There were many more in Paris but some were taken down
because they were illegal or were stolen to collect or sell. He even invaded the Louvre
years ago, but his unauthorized art has been removed.
Invader’s hits can be found throughout Paris and even Versailles. (He has invaded 24 other
bookstores, restaurants, bars, jazz clubs, on many of the walls and corners of every
arrondissement and even on the roads to Charles de Gaulle airport. Look up into Space
too. An Invader was installed on the International Space Station in 2015. Okay, that one
may be hard to flash.
I was amazed at how many Invaders can be found in the Marais. I’ve walked the area often
and rarely noticed them but now I’m always on the lookout. The Invaders website is
helpful for finding some but being an observant Invader flâneur is just fun.
Everyone has a favorite Invader and Hélène has several.
“I like so many of them, but there is one made as a bird carrying a branch in its beak, next
to the Seine, that I particularly like,” she said. “There’s also a space invader wearing a face
mask that Invader made during the pandemic. Another cool one is a self-portrait. It shows
Invader the artist wearing a mask, standing on a ladder, completing a mosaic space
invader on a wall. Another self-portrait shows Invader running away with a ladder from a
space invader he’s finished. Also, there are figures from Star Wars, like Princess Leia. You
can find her on Rue Princesse in Saint Germain.”
My favorite is the Chewbacca and C-3PO I first flashed. In two weeks, I found 26 Invaders
for a score of 1170 points. I’m just starting. Hélène has 512 Invaders and 15,580 points.
Her first found Invader was on the Saint Michel fountain. How many times have I walked
by that fountain and never seen the Invader? But when I do flash that one, I’ll raise up my
arms in victory like Chewbacca, which is what I do when the app approves my Invader
flashes. Like in the original game, flash those aliens.
Lead photo credit : Martha's Flash Invaders Gallery © Martha Sessums
About the Author: Intrigued by France since her first stroll along the Seine, Martha and her husband often travel to Paris to explore the city and beyond. She lives part-time on the Île de la Cité and part-time in the San Francisco Bay Area, delighting in its strong Francophone and French culture community. She was a high-tech public relations executive and currently runs a non-profit continuing education organization. She also works as the San Francisco ambassador for France Today magazine.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or beliefs of Message.