Cultural guerrillas restore Paris’ Pantheon clock

Here in Toronto, we like to revel in the actions of guerrilla activists who do things to try and better our everyday lives: the Urban Repair Squad (creating bike lanes on roads using spray cans), the City Beautification Ensemble (applying “colour therapy” to hundreds of ring-and-post bike racks), and the ever popular Guerrilla Gardeners. But Paris beats us, hand’s down, when it comes to subversive acts that better everyday life.

“Cultural guerrillas” in Paris, known as the Untergunther, were recently cleared of charges of breaking into the Pantheon. What did they do once they broke in? Steal artifacts? Spray-paint political messages on the walls? No, they just restored an 18th Century clock. And they did it over a one-year period. This absolutely blows my mind.

Read the rest at the Guardian UK:

For a year from September 2005, under the nose of the Panthéon’s unsuspecting security officials, a group of intrepid “illegal restorers” set up a secret workshop and lounge in a cavity under the building’s famous dome. Under the supervision of group member Jean-Baptiste Viot, a professional clockmaker, they pieced apart and repaired the antique clock that had been left to rust in the building since the 1960s. Only when their clandestine revamp of the elaborate timepiece had been completed did they reveal themselves.

“When we had finished the repairs, we had a big debate on whether we should let the Panthéon’s officials know or not,” said Lazar Klausmann, a spokesperson for the Untergunther. “We decided to tell them in the end so that they would know to wind the clock up so it would still work.

“The Panthéon’s administrator thought it was a hoax at first, but when we showed him the clock, and then took him up to our workshop, he had to take a deep breath and sit down.”

Getting into the building was the easiest part, according to Klausmann. The squad allowed themselves to be locked into the Panthéon one night, and then identified a side entrance near some stairs leading up to their future hiding place. “Opening a lock is the easiest thing for a clockmaker,” said Klausmann. From then on, they sneaked in day or night under the unsuspecting noses of the Panthéon’s officials.

“I’ve been working here for years,” said a ticket officer at the Panthéon who wished to remain anonymous. “I know every corner of the building. And I never noticed anything.”

The hardest part of the scheme was carrying up the planks used to make chairs and tables to furnish the Untergunther’s cosy squat cum workshop, which has sweeping views over Paris.

The group managed to connect the hideaway to the electricity grid and install a computer connected to the net.

Klausmann and his crew are connaisseurs of the Parisian underworld. Since the 1990s they have restored crypts, staged readings and plays in monuments at night, and organised rock concerts in quarries. The network was unknown to the authorities until 2004, when the police discovered an underground cinema, complete with bar and restaurant, under the Seine. They have tried to track them down ever since.

photo by Loran

3 comments

  1. Other than the clockmaker, it would be interesting to know the talent and skills of the other participants.

    I hope that some officials recognize this endeavour and give some money to these people for their work.

    It sets one mind to thinking; what other types of teams or squads could be formed to do similar work elsewhere in the city?

    It also demonstrates how the people can lead and the government follow.

  2. It’s just amazing what they did.

    I do have to disagree about gov’t giving them money. That will limit and restrict them. These guys are effective because they operate outside of a bureaucracy. If they needed approval for their projects, or anything of that nature it would kill the spirit. The best thing anybody can do for them is get out of their way. Or offer your own time of course.

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