When It Rained Butterflies in Paris
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because maybe confetti and a blast from a city air vent is the art Paris needed after a terrorist attack.
Let me take you back to Nov. 13, 2016. Paris was mourning that day: the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks that claimed the lives of 130 people. Nearly a year before that, we’d all walked the long boulevard from the Bataclan to the mourning plaza at Place de la République, grieving and shoving cameras out of our faces. But a year later, there weren’t any news trucks or even an organized remembrance. Just a crowd who’d all wandered to the plaza, sensing we should do something, but unsure what to do. And that’s when I saw the butterflies.
I still have one, tucked away in a pocket to be thrown out by my descendants: a slip of blood-red paper, one of millions that flew through the air after being dropped by the handful over a massive air vent in the sidewalk by artist Anne Cazaubon. They blew into the sky and down the street, raining down on traffic, some carried aloft all the way to the Bataclan. Some people around me were crying; others were taking photos. It was like finally inhaling deeply, not realizing you’d been holding your breath for so long.
“It was what people needed,” says Cazaubon, a freelance journalist and artist based in Paris, who first piloted this artistic act a few days after the attacks in 2015. “Thirty or 40 people hugged me, cried into my arms, and I realized the project is much bigger than I am.”
Cazaubon’s artistic career took off suddenly about five years ago with her project Les Textopolitains, which drew on experiences of American small talk and crowded Chinese trains to create little booklets of messages for fellow train passengers. Years of silence on the Parisian Metro — you can always tell when someone’s American on the train, because they speak out loud — had led her to wonder if other people on the train were craving connection. So she started passing notes, compliments to strangers, and people responded. She called it #sweetart — the same city-based aesthetic as street art and the same reclamation of city norms, but with a focus on friendliness. Her art, as she describes it, is “always kind and always biodegradable.”
To Cazaubon, the vents were the poumons de la ville: the lungs of the city.
She’d long wanted to do a project inspired by another aspect of the Metro: The huge vents that belch out warm air are both desirable sleeping spots for clochards and danger zones for anyone wearing a skirt. To Cazaubon, the vents were the poumons de la ville: the lungs of the city. The idea for the confetti came after seeing a play where red paper blown by small vents was used to represent a violent scene.
You can find her in carefully chosen locations around Paris, usually every one or two months, as her project is mostly self-funded and can cost her more than $1,000 in materials — throwing hearts, stars and butterflies, made from biodegradable paper that dissolves with the first rain, high into the air. “It’s most beautiful with glitter,” she admits, “but I can’t find biodegradable glitter.”
— Anne Cazaubon (@Anne_Cazaubon) November 17, 2016