One From the Heart
Ian Phillips -- Interior Design, 8/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
Filled with high-rise housing projects, the distinctly working-class Paris suburb of Bobigny has only a few claims to fame. Chanteur Jacques Brel died there in 1978; Oscar Niemeyer designed a trade-union headquarters that was completed in 1980. Other than that, the overriding impression is grim and gray, and getting married there used to be an equally depressing affair. The municipal hall where wedding ceremonies took place was, Mayor Catherine Peyge admits, "ugly and sad."
It was her predecessor, the late Bernard Birsinger, who called on Hervé Di Rosa to give the place an extreme makeover. Famous for colorful work inspired by comic strips, Di Rosa belonged to the Figuration Libre movement of the early 1980's. "Rich people can get married in Versailles or Marrakech. Whereas poor people often find themselves in really shabby surroundings," he says. "Birsinger's idea was to offer them a work of art."
To create a joyful atmosphere, Di Rosa chose a palette of bright colors. He concealed the ceiling with multicolored cotton tarps, stretched on steel cables, and designed wonderfully witty furniture made of polyester resin in 25 different shades. His two types of anthropomorphic guest chairs both feature heart-shape backs—chairs for the bride and groom are similar but larger, with a stylized face molded into each back. The mayor's bright red table, also shaped like that most vital of human organs, is wide enough to accommodate the dozens of official papers required for signatures.
Perhaps because marriage is a union, Di Rosa thought of the space as an "ensemble work." Four local graffiti artists were invited to express themselves on sections of wall between the windows. For the foyer outside the hall, another artist contributed a painting called Les Amoureux de Bobigny.
The hall also reflects the cultural diversity of Bobigny's residents, who hail from more than 100 countries. An 8-foot-high Africanized bronze of Marianne, the allegorical figure of the French republic, was made at a foundry in Cameroon. The work's unique patina is the result of the alloy's unusual ingredients, which include old pipes and faucets.
Each married couple receives a gift of a limited-edition silk screen, the work of artists from five continents. In return, newlyweds are asked to leave a memento. Their presents are displayed in the hall's three glass cabinets. Two more vitrines contain other gifts, presented by visiting dignitaries, as well as symbols of coupledom from around the world: embracing dolls from South Korea and Thailand, bride-and-groom skeletons from Mexico, and Playmobil characters from all over. Di Rosa also covered a couple of wall panels with assorted photographs and drawings related to marriage: Superman and Lois Lane, Charles and Diana.
Just as you never know how long a marriage will last, Di Rosa understands that his design might not be around forever. "Something can go out of fashion, or a politician can be replaced," he says. His stage-set decor, he points out, can easily be dismantled, leaving the hall free for another civic use.
CUSTOM SEATING: O. HALIGON FINE ARTS STUDIO. TRACK LIGHTING: FORCLUM; ATELIERS DU SUD (INSTALLATION).