Etching sidewalk poems with French flacking artist Ememem

Where others see cracks in asphalt, Ememem finds a canvas to ‘flack’, inserting colourful tiles to turn defects into mosaic street art, earning him the moniker of “pavement surgeon”.

by Jincy IypePublished on : Nov 10, 2021

We are ingrained to discard things that fail to appear perfect or put together – when one side of our earphones stop working, we buy new ones; we replace broken cups and jewellery when they chip off – seldom do we sit trying to repair them, give them a renewed lease of life, or find ways to seek beauty in their imperfections. But this can only remain muted for so long, especially with those who are restless in their pursuit of creativity. Akin to Kintsugi, the Japanese art technique of repairing broken pottery by patching the damaged areas with gold and silver, French artist Ememem upcycles potholes and sidewalk cracks with his ceramic ‘flacking’, elevating them from eyesores to charming pockets of street art. “I have always been fascinated by what is broken or damaged. Things and people. As a child, I was so proud of my bruised knees. What is damaged has lived! How fascinating!” he shares.

Before and after of Ememem's 'flacking' street art | Ememem street artist | STIRworld
Before and after of Ememem's 'flacking' street art Image: Ememem
The punctual sun, the circus and the mustached woman (Paris 2020) | Ememem street artist | STIRworld
The punctual sun, the circus and the mustached woman (Paris 2020) Image: Ememem
Ememem employs ceramic and majolica tiles to adorn cracked pavements (Paris 2020) | Ememem street artist | STIRworld
Ememem employs ceramic and majolica tiles to adorn cracked pavements (Paris 2020) Image: Ememem

Taking somewhere between an hour to multiple trance-filled days to realise, these outdoor mosaics can be witnessed anywhere from France to Norway to Spain and cities throughout Europe including Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, and Milan, treating and embellishing unlikely canvases such as chipped crumbling walls and cracked cement footpaths. Mixing myriad shapes and sizes of a motley of ceramic tiles and majolica, sometimes sheened stones, and chips of glass and steel, Ememem employs quick glue to hold the artworks in place. He has also exhibited in galleries and museums, but the street remains his true love, having grown up playing outside and imbibing its carefree, spirited culture.

Ememem at Nuart 2018, Stavanger in Norway | Ememem street artist | STIRworld
Ememem at Nuart 2018, Stavanger in Norway Image: Ememem
Paris 2017 | Ememem street artist | STIRworld
Paris 2017 Image: Ememem
Sidewalk jewelery | Ememem street artist | STIRworld
Sidewalk jewelery Image: Ememem

The France-based street artist prefers sticking to his alias, Ememem – “It is the sound my motorcycle makes when I leave for a flacking mission. Seemed instantly appropriate when I started back in 2016. Honestly, I am not good at communicating. I prefer letting my macadam poetry speak to people. That is why I have stuck to my alias for so long. People can imagine me as they want, and that fascinates me to no extent. I love that you can think I am Santa, or Banksy, a business tycoon by day,” he shares.

For his delightful art that pops up without preamble, he has earned a fitting nickname “pavement surgeon”, especially in his hometown Lyon, for healing fractures in the street and filling them into colourful, patterned montages, a technique he dubs ‘flacking’, based on the French word for puddle – flaque. “I am just a sidewalk poet, a son of bitumen. I hesitated slightly before accepting the moniker “pavement surgeon”. I could also be the “bitumen mender”, the “crazy tiller”, the “poet of asphalt” - what do you think?” he poses.

Ememem working on one of his creations | Ememem street artist | STIRworld
Ememem working on one of his creations Image: Ememem
The "defects" are treated as unlikely canvases for the street mosaics Image: Ememem
Quick glue is used to hold the artwork in place Image: Ememem

So how does he choose sites for flacking? How is one pothole chosen over countless others that dot cobbled streets of urban cities? “It depends. There is no hard and fast rule for me to choose. Recently, I found one in front of the Eiffel Tower... it is a high potential site to flack just fills me up with excitement. I swear I will do it someday!” he says.

Street art as a mien and creative vocation has also been negatively regarded as “vandalism” across countries. And so, many times, his works have been uprooted, just moments after being finished. But joyously often, authorities have let his non-commissioned works be, fostering an appreciation for street art and the effect it elicits on complete strangers and a city’s fabric, continually and imperceptibly expanding its unique landscape.

One of his latest works in Lyon 2021 | Ememem street artist | STIRworld
One of his latest works in Lyon 2021 Image: Ememem
Ememem chooses unexpected canvases from cracked sidewalks to chipped walls such as this one in Sète, France | Ememem street artist | STIRworld
Ememem chooses unexpected canvases from cracked sidewalks to chipped walls such as this one in Sète, France Image: Ememem
One of his works exhibited in a gallery | Ememem street artist | STIRworld
One of his works exhibited in a gallery Image: Ememem

Asked to describe how he views his creative and artistic expression, and Ememem answers, “Le beau est toujours bizarre (the beautiful is always bizarre), a dictum by French poet Charles Baudelaire. Beauty and love are everywhere; find ways to seek it and give birth to it!”

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