French street artist JR is a favourite here on Good Design and the latest installment of his on-going project ‘Wrinkes of the City: Berlin’ is quite simply stunning. JR always designs his projects to give a voice to the voiceless and forces viewers to reappraise their assumptions about society. ‘Wrinkles of the city’ focuses on the aging process, a subject we can all relate to in some shape or form, whether we are at the beginning or end of it.
Having previously been to Cartagena, Havana, Shanghai, and Los Angeles, JR picks cities that have a rich history. Berlin of course has more than it’s fair share of this. As he puts it “It’s about old people with wrinkles, pasted on walls with wrinkles. We only look for walls with history.” By blowing up his posters to larger than life proportions JR is taking people from one generation and presenting them in new and fresh ways to another generation. He takes the example of the elderly people of Berlin that he has used for the project and how they have lived through things that younger generations have only read about in school. Within a decade these people may not be around to tell their stories any more, so JR aims to capture their last ‘testimonials’ to the city in which they have lived and create an enduring connection with its people.
“It’s about old people with wrinkles, pasted on walls with wrinkles. We only look for walls with history.”
Making connections is very important for JR, it’s about involving the community and creating local action for local impact. Then it goes global via the internet and people learn about the project. For example when JR and the team pasted onto the side of the Postbahnhof, an abandoned post office turned nightclub in Berlin’s east side, the elderly couple featured in the photograph came to help. It turned out that the woman had been forced to work in the post office by the Stasi during the separation, controlling the packages that crossed from east to west. Now, many years on, she feels a sense of victory and ownership as her face covers the wall, in a new era of liberty and freedom.
One key focus of the new Good Design manifesto is to be an ‘advocate for those who challenge the status quo and present new ways of doing and seeing’. And I can’t think of many other creative minds in the world today who do this as effectively and with such originality as JR. His work gives us a fresh perspective, giving forgotten places and faces a new lease of life and in doing so allows us to see the world through a new lense.