‘This piece is San Francisco’: the massive digital mural capturing the city’s humanity

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French artist JRs massive digital artwork showcases every stratum of society in the city

San Francisco has been getting a bad rap lately. You dont have to live here to know that homelessness brushes up against wealth and shiny technology, construction cranes are a staple in the landscape and articles citing cultural collapse duel on social media with love letters to this city by the bay. All of which is to say that there are lot of opinionated perspectives in this dynamic metropolis.

The French artist JR has captured 1,206 of them in The Chronicles of San Francisco, a massive digital mural he began in 2018. The crowd-depicting panorama is a technical marvel that captures the range of humanity seen in the peaks and valleys of SF. Using stills and video, JR photographed every stratum of society: from the down-and-out to tech bros to socialites and local celebrities (the Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich, Governor Gavin Newsom, the Golden State Warrior Draymond Green and the writer Armistead Maupin, whose novel Tales of the City is echoed in the murals title).

The Chronicles of San Francisco, a massive digital mural by the artist JR. Photograph: Matthew Millman

In a nod to his collaborative 2017 documentary Faces/Places with Agns Varda, JR took to the streets with a mobile studio, parking in 24 neighborhoods and encouraged volunteers to pose as expressive versions of themselves. Each had their portrait taken separately, in front of a green screen, and were then inserted into local settings: Victorian houses, in front of the infamous Castro Theatre, on stoops, in a garage. The mural also includes a building enveloped by black smoke being attended by firefighters, a woman re-enacting giving birth on a gurney and even a horse disguised as a unicorn (photographed in a studio) that lords over a crowd.

JR and Roberto de Angelis at work in San Francisco. Photograph: Camille Pajot/Courtesy JR-art.net

The finished piece is an intricate tapestry of figures who were digitally composited together bringing people together virtually, a fitting strategy in the epicenter of social media.

Subtle movements are captured in gently looping Gifs: We see people reading, getting a tattoo, applying lipstick, texting, swimming, protesting, eating and drinking. The 100-ft, slightly curving digital screen allows the scene to scroll from left to right. The uncanny feeling it generates is a bit like sitting in a revolving hotel view bar. The LED screen illumination creates a mediated glamor onscreen as well as the light it casts on viewers.

As we know from his various projects creating a canyon around the Louvres glass pyramid, straddling the US-Mexico border with images JR knows how to involve community to choreograph humane spectacle. At SFMOMAs public christening last week, the artist seduced a crowd of hundreds like a rock star. Were all here together! This is your room now, he said to wild applause.

He celebrated the fact that this is a non-ticketed street-level gallery, a public private space that will, next year, be occupied by Diego Riveras Pan American Unity mural from the 1940 Golden Gate International Exposition. JR cited the Mexican artists San Francisco projects, and the regions deep history of murals, as an inspiration. When I saw Riveras murals, I wondered what all those people would say, he proclaimed. And so each of the figures in Chronicles were interviewed, their portrait and voice accessible on touch screens. Now we know. This is a mural at the scale of a whole city, he boasted.

Inside JRs studio truck. Photograph: Marc Azoulay/Courtesy JR-art.net

There has been some grumbling from the local art world at the pieces breezy populism, and suspicion of the support the project has received from Lynne and Marc Benioff, the founder of Salesforce, a company that has changed the citys culture and skyline (the signature Salesforce tower is prominently visible in the mural). But it is difficult to quibble with a project that is so interested in being a generous reflection of the culture and its diversity.

This piece is San Francisco, he said to the crowd, letting them happily soak in their image.

  • JRs The Chronicles of San Francisco is at SFMOMA until 2020

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/may/30/san-francisco-chronicles-mural-jr

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