Paolo Cirio

The invasion of 'Street Ghosts' in Luxembourg City

Paolo Cirio stands in front of one of his 35 "Street Ghosts"
Photo: Lex Kleren

You can spot them all over Luxembourg City. Artist Paolo Cirio's 35 faceless figures pasted around the capital at first sight may resemble someone you know – a neighbour or friend.

Far from being a work of graffiti, these “Street Ghosts” form part of an art project for which Cirio travelled to Luxembourg especially. He tells the Luxemburger Wort all about it.

Paolo Cirio, who are these 35 "Street Ghosts" that can be found around Luxembourg City?

These are images that I have recovered on the internet looking at Luxembourg on Google Street View. The silhouettes were pasted to where they were photographed by Google.

Why this project?

What interests me is to put these images in virtual reality. This is to provoke discussion: what is public? What is private? Art can help to highlight certain phenomena that are beyond us.

Sabine Dorscheid, the artistic director of the International Luxembourg Kunstverein (IKV), which commissioned the project and supervised its installation.
Photo: Lex Kleren

You live in New York. Did you come to Luxembourg before hand to familiarise yourself with the City?

No. I discussed with Sabine Dorscheid, the artistic director of the International Luxembourg Kunstverein (IKV), which commissioned the project and supervised its installation.

We agreed to focus on the centre of the capital so that the "Street Ghosts" are clearly visible. For the rest, it was enough for me to work from data collected online.

What was your criteria for selecting the people whose silhouettes would become part of the project?

It depended on the place, colours and positioning of the figure. It is also a photographic project therefore it was necessary for the images to be interesting.

But it was also necessary that the property owners agree to have pictures pasted on their walls.

How easy were they to convince?

This is a big job and was taken care of by the IKV. It was not easy. Building occupants are not necessarily the owners. In addition, all the owners did not agree to play the game. Some feared the reactions of Google.

You did not ask permission from Google to use these images. Did you have trouble with them?

No, the group never contacted me. Google's marketing strategy is to leverage its "nice" image. So it left me alone. This is not the case for Facebook which, in the past stopped one of my projects and threatened to take me to court. I had published a million photos and information from Facebook on a site. It got a big reaction from the people concerned.

You have in the past compared Goodle Steret View to an “enormous social parasite”, which feeds off others...

Google takes pictures in the public space without asking permission and without paying for that information. In this sense, it is a parasite that manages to make a lot of money on the backs of society.

Photo: Lex Kleren

How can this project challenge that fact?

I get these images and place them where they were taken. It is an act of re-contextualisation that should cause people to wonder who is the owner of these photos. Is it Google? Is it the person whose photo is being taken? Is it me?

It also raises the question of the perception of images. When you see your image on your smartphone, it seems that it is private. When displayed on a wall in the public space, we physically perceive that we are no longer masters of our own image.

Luxembourg MP Mars di Bartolomeo was photographed next to the "Ghost Street" posted near the Chamber of Deputies and released this photo on social networks. Is it true that people find the project fun?

I still feel that people are becoming more aware of these issues and that this educational work is paying off. The use of Snapchat by young people is a form of reaction. Even Google has evolved. Now they blur the faces of people they photograph, which was not the case before.

Can an artist live today without Facebook or other social media?

No. I have a Facebook account but I do not publish anything private. I use it as a phone.

Do you consider yourself a committed artist?

I do what is called "impact art." Like many artists of my generation - like Ai Wei Wei - I try to help change things in a positive light, without any ideology and in a practical way.

Interview by Marie-Laure Rolland

Translated by Jess Bauldry

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