Artworks by Mark Vallen
DEMAND THE IMPOSSIBLE! - Posters From The 1968 Paris Uprising
Written by Mark Vallen, May 2001 .

Unlike some of today's self-serving artists who have become art stars by opportunistically building a career on street art, the artists of the Atelier Populaire eschewed the cult of the personality in favor of egalitarian politics. To them, a poster that conveyed an unmistakable message leading to action was of primary importance, who actually made the poster was irrelevant. The Atelier's mission was made clear in a statement the collective issued in '68:

"The posters produced by the Atelier Populaire are weapons in the service of the struggle and are an inseparable part of it. Their rightful place is in the centers of conflict, that is to say, in the streets and on the walls of the factories. To use them for decorative purposes, to display them in bourgeois places of culture or to consider them as objects of aesthetic interest is to impair both their function and their effect. This is why the Atelier Populaire has always refused to put them on sale.

Wheatpasting the posters on the street
Wheatpasting the posters on the street
Wheatpasting the posters on the street
Silkscreen workshop at the occupied University
Silkscreen workshop at the occupied University
Even to keep them as historical evidence of a certain stage in the struggle is a betrayal, for the struggle itself is of such primary importance that the position of an "outside" observer is a fiction which inevitably plays into the hands of the ruling class. That is why these works should not be taken as the final outcome of an experience, but as an inducement for finding, though contact with the masses, new levels of action, both on the cultural and the political plane."

The message on this poster reads: The Vote Changes Nothing, The Struggle Continues. During the Paris uprising many activists concluded that reformist electoral politics were a dead-end. Demonstrations and strikes became the preferred forms of political action.

The Vote Changes Nothing - The Struggle Continues
We Are The Power

This poster reads: We Are The Power. During the uprising organized labor took to the streets in unprecedented numbers.

This poster titled Borders = Repression, portrays a French policeman painted with the stripes of a border crossing barricade. The message being that workers are kept apart and in competition with one another based on the false division of nationalism.

Borders = Repression
Popular Power
This poster illustrates one of the uprising's major slogans, Pouvoir Populaire (Popular Power - or Power to the People as it would be chanted in English). The image shows united students, workers, and peasants.

The title of this poster is Free Information, and its double entendre is breathtaking. Is the poster a poke at a self-censored press that tows the government line and offers people false "Free Information"? Or does the graphic portray a free press held hostage and in need of liberation? Note that even the cord on the microphone is tied in a knot, implying the choking off of reliable news reporting.

Free Information
The Boss Needs You, You Do Not Need Him
The caption reads The Boss Needs You, You Do Not Need Him. This widely distributed image encapsulated socialist philosophy in a two panel cartoon. A classic portrayal of a capitalist filing his pockets when he has not contributed anything towards the creation of wealth.

In order to contain the widening popular revolt, pro-government goon squads were formed composed of right-wing workers and off duty policemen. They continually assaulted demonstrators and organizers, infiltrated and broke up political meetings and rallies, and attempted by wholesale thuggery to intimidate sympathizers of the uprising. This poster mocked one aggressive right-wing group, the Civic Action, for being "Fascist Vermin."

Civic Action - Fascist Vermin
Vigilance Indentifies the Civic Action

This poster could be called a companion piece to the one shown directly above. The poster hails Vigilance as a way of indicating or identifying infiltration by Civiques - members of the right-wing Civic Action group.

This poster, Down With The Infernal Cadence, condemns the long hours, work speed-ups, low pay, and general exploitation of industrial workers on the shop floor. The abstraction of a worker who must do six jobs at once, combined with a politically astute yet poetic title, exemplifies what made the posters of Paris 68 so powerful.

Down With The Infernal Cadence
Press - Not To Be Swallowed
This poster warned people against believing the version of events as reported by the capitalist pro-government press. Written on a black bottle, the type reserved for poisons, Press -Not To Be Swallowed. is owned and operated by Mark Vallen All text by Mark Vallen