A Palimpsest called Paris
In combining two complementary types of talent, a lot of magic can result. This is certainly the case with François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters, whose collaboration began in the early 1980s with the well-known series of comic books called Les Cités Obscures, for which Schuiten draws the images and Peeters tells the story. As if to flaunt the already powerful alchemy created by the pair, an exhibition centred on unrealised proposals for Paris’s built environment over the past few centuries has been staged by the two gents, combining those historic, visionary projects with their own imaginative works.
Originally, a palimpsest was a sheet of parchment whose surface was scraped-off numerous times in order to allow new layers of scripture to be inscribed. The erasure was, however, never total, and archaeologists choose to study such a document for the multiple layers of history it has gathered on one object. This notion of a palimpsest can be perceived at the core of the vision proposed by François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters in their current exhibition Revoir Paris. Here, the two graphic novelists mix speculative projects on the city of Paris from the mid-19th-century to the present era, with their own literary work that proposes visions of an imaginary Paris.
These visions from the 19th-century past to the science-fiction future are classically categorised, and the entire exhibition is conjugated in the future antérieur tense; in other words, visions of the future that originate in the past. Thus, we can admire many 19th-century etchings and newspaper articles depicting a delirious future where zeppelins would land on top of mediaeval buildings such as Notre Dame or the Saint Jacques Tower, where metropolitain trains would circulate on three-storey bridges across the city, where entire boulevards would be sheltered by gigantic cast-iron roof structures, and etcetera. The exhibition also features projects that were actually built, such as the great Hausmannian transformations, as well as the successive World Expos (1855, 1878, 1889, 1900) that took place there. These projects, despite their realisation, can also be considered speculative, in terms of the radicalism they embodied at the time they were implemented.