PARIS — I met artist Andreas Kopp in early December, after a brisk pre-conference behind-the-scenes tour at LeWeb, in Paris. On my way out the door, rushing to catch my coat and the metro, I stumbled upon a group of German hipsters (They’re much more approachable that their American counterparts). Andreas and the Post-it Art Creators team sprawled across giant sheets of paper, diligently sticking Post-it notes to a neatly organized grid.
Twelve hours later, two colorful pixilated portraits benevolently looked down as deities over the conference entrance hall. Suspended high up, 2,030 Post-it notes comprised Marissa Mayer, CEO and president of Yahoo, on the right side. Facing her on the left wall was a 1,746 Post-it note likeness of Kevin Systrom, co-founder and CEO of Instagram.
The choice of the two subjects seems a prophetic irony, given the recent headlines concerning Instagram, and Flickr. In hindsight, it seems as if LeWeb was offering an elegant clin d’oeil to the seeming rivals, and predicting what lay ahead by reminding us of the 2011 French Post-it Wars.
I mentioned the Post-it Wars to Andreas. He said he’s accustomed to being compared to them, but actually didn’t know about them when he and friend Christian Mauerer began making their creations. And besides, he kind of became an artist by accident. After the passing of Steve Jobs, his friend Christian had an idea. The duo (with the help of a few friends) created a 4,001 Post-it note portrait at the Munich Apple Store, drawing crowds and international media attention. It was their first public art project. The fledgling artists have since been commissioned to create portraits of Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Muhammad Yunus, Felix Baumgartner, and the Dalai Lama.
Still, I can’t help but draw a parallel between Andreas’s creation at LeWeb and the lighthearted irony that fueled the Post-it Wars. The Post-it Wars were a spontaneous movement of creativity by French corporate employees beginning in the Parisian suburb of Montreuil in July of 2011. The first silent shot was fired from Ubisoft, when Emilie Cozette, in charge of ordering the office supplies (including the Post-its), created a Space Invader in her window. The following day, she and her colleagues were surprised to see in the window of the facing BNP Paribas office a menacing Post-it note retaliation in the form of Pac-Man. The wars continued throughout the summer, spreading through Paris corporate offices and open spaces, and then worldwide. At one point during the hostilities “arms dealer” 3M supplied Ubisoft with a shipment of ammunition, containing 30,000 Post-its. Companies that constantly compete for market presence were suddenly launched into a playful parody of themselves, one-upping each other with retro video game characters and Nyan Cats rendered in office supplies.
Are we to believe that the Post-it face off between Flickr and Instagram deities at LeWeb, or now, online, is as innocently playful as the neighboring Paris corporate employees were during the Post-it Wars? Such a story is hard to buy when the Internet is going mad, picking up swords, or rather mobile phones, to participate in the photo-sharing war that has broken out, zealously tweeting and furiously demanding that everyone choose a side.
I find it fascinating that Mayer and Systrom just happened to be the sole two subjects of the artwork displayed with such grandeur at this LeWeb, mere days before both of their companies began dominating many of the conversations that have been taking place over the Internet. I spoke to Andreas, as well as to Geraldine Le Meur, co-organizer of the conference, curious as to why Marissa and Kevin were chosen. Their answers were frank, and seemed to hide nothing.
I can’t help but wonder how, in this case, the wordless language of art sent a coded message. Did the conference’s organizers know something that we didn’t? I am fairly certain that I am reading too much into this. I am fairly certain that while the artwork may say something deeper, the coincidental message of the battle of these two companies is simply colorful fluff, once again, counting on the viral potential of a trend to garner the attention of the masses. In any case, it’s pretty, like the photo filters that I am still faithfully and mindlessly using to document it.