JR: “I had the impression of seeing a human map of the world!”
In Rio, contemporary French artist JR left his mark with two projects: the Giants, gigantic images of athletes mounted on scaffolding in the heart of the city; and Inside Out, a photo truck which captured the faces of ordinary people, whose photos were then displayed around the city. Here are his impressions from his experience as artist in residence.
How do you feel about what you did in Rio?
The Rio project was a key moment in my artistic career, as I’ve been working there for more than 10 years, in the favelas, in the city, with museums; and I was always scared of going back with a large work which could link all the different worlds in which I’ve worked. These Giants were an ideal way to return, as they combined all these worlds, museum installations taking pride of place in the heart of the city, visible to everyone. The important thing for me in a city like that, and in the current context, was to make these works as non-elitist as possible, and as they were in the public domain, everyone had the same chance to see them.
Do you think the Olympic Games provide interesting subject matter for artists?
For me, the subject matter was amazing. I had never imagined that, and I hope to be back there again in the future! There are so many layers in human terms, not just sporting, with everything that happens behind the scenes. And there are links to my work, which is to place the human being at the forefront, regardless of background or colour.
Do you think there is a place for art at the Olympic Games?Of course, there is always a place for art when there is room to express yourself, and the framework has not already been invaded by brands and sponsors. In my case, I chose the city in order to be totally free.
What is your best memory of the Games? Your best image from the Games?
My best memory is of the Maracanãzinho, the little stadium next to the famous Maracanã, where my team and I sat to watch the whole world’s athletes arrive, without photographers or cameras, before going into the Opening Ceremony. I had the impression of seeing a human map of the world.
What has happened to these three Giants?
The majority of my works are ephemeral; they make an impact on people and continue to exist through photographs that people share, or which I myself do. But the physical object gradually disappears. I imagine that the scaffolding is now being used to build the Brazil of tomorrow, at least I hope so.
Have you had any feedback from the athletes who were photographed, either for the Giants project or for InsideOut, at the Village in particular?I had feedback from three athletes who weren’t able to compete at the Games this time, but who were very proud to be represented there symbolically. I have stayed in touch with many of the athletes who took part in Inside Out or followed the project. It was great to meet them and discover a world I previously knew only from watching television.
What about the general public’s participation in the Inside Out Rio project?The participation was amazing everywhere, whether in the city centre or the favelas or the Olympic Village. The truck was operating all the time. For years, I had dreamed of taking this project to Brazil, on this scale; and I hope it will carry on, as the truck is still there.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m finishing a film with director Agnès Varda and starting a new project that I look forward to unveiling next year. And perhaps lots of other Giants? The best way to follow my projects is via social media.
Find out more about the artists in residence programme
Recommendation 26 of Olympic Agenda 2020, the strategic roadmap for the Olympic Movement, calls on the IOC to “further strengthen the blending of sport and culture at the Olympic Games and in-between.” The implementation of an artists-in-residence programme during the Games was one of the first measures linked to this recommendation.