Why You Must Visit Les Frigos in Paris
An arial view of Les Frigos – Courtesy of Wikimedia Images
Last Tuesday was one of those rare, sunny January days that are so seldom gifted to the rainy city of Paris. After visiting 59 Rivoli earlier in the month (another collective art space like Les Frigos) I decided to take advantage of the scarce Vitamin D and take the long bike ride to the 13th arrondissement: district of Les Frigos.
It was my first time in this eastern section of Paris, and while I had heard praise of the Les Frigos during my time living in France, I had yet to see if for myself. It stuck out like a sore thumb. The building itself looked like some contemporary mix of an abandoned factory and a fairytale castle.
Graffitti on the walls of Les Frigos – Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Every inch of wall within human grasp was engulfed in graffiti and street art. The buildings nearest Les Frigos had also been tagged. Street art revolved outwards from its artistic center, leaving its mark on the banks and Parisian shops that neighbored it.
It took me about ten minutes to find the door, only to find that the visiting hours had ended nearly two hours ago (it was only 3:00 pm). I was sinking into annoyance and getting ready to leave when a man walked out from the glass doors and gave me a friendly nod. We exchanged a few words and he told me that if I wanted to take I walk through no one would care. “Its a free space,” he told me.
What is Les Frigos?
Literally translated to mean The Refrigerators, Les Frigos is a massive building containing different sized “fridges,” if you will, in which painters, musicians and photographers have made their home.
It is located in the 13th arrondissement, lodged on the left bank and commonly known for its Asian community and its National Library of France. At one time, the 13th arrondissement was a thriving middle-class neighborhood and was complete with factories, warehouses and other industrial buildings.
Les Frigos originated as one of these warehouses. It was built in 1921 and was used to store products that had to be kept cold, hence its namesake. Thanks to this, the walls are thick and well insulated, making it easy for musicians and rowdy artists to do as they please without being too intrusive.
After shutting down in 1971, the warehouse became a vast wasteland of metal and decay. It stayed that way for nearly nine years until being taken over by a small group of squatters in 1980. It was then slowly transformed into the unique artistic space that it is today.
There are now around 100 artists living and working in Les Frigos. Hidden within its fortress-like walls are theaters, workshops, musical studios, cafés and gardens. It is one of the nicest walks in Paris.
Inside The Refrigerators
The first thing I noticed was the total lack of noise inside the hallways. I would assume that it is not always like this – when the space is open to visitors I imagine it to be swarming with people – but when I went, besides the occasional opening of the heavy metal doors, all was quiet.
The inside walls resembled their outdoor counterparts: covered with art and witty political quips. The corridors were long and broke off into different rooms and chambers. Needless to say I felt a little out of place inside the extensive building. There was a nagging feeling that I was somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be.
My feeling was quickly proven to be unfounded. Everyone I met was overtly friendly. I wandered into the space’s café and was welcomed by two women who explained to me all about the history and the current problems facing Les Frigos. For a space named after refrigerators, it expelled a warm atmosphere.
Workshops and things to do inside Les Frigos
There is a large concrete staircase that leads up the five stories. It is dimly lit and, of course, is covered in wall art. Living in Paris has taught me that the more street art painted on walls, the cooler the place.
Each floor specializes in its own type of art: photography, music, painting or theater. I was welcomed to the music floor by the wavering smell of marijuana and old cigarette smoke. After finding its source, the native man of Les Frigos told me about the jazz forum that was taking place and offered the direction in which I was to go.
My system of discovery was relatively unsophisticated, and I must have looked like a total dork as I poked my head through each door, and then, upon seeing it occupied, I would mutter a short salut and retreat. It worked though.
I quickly found the music chambers containing everything from baby grand pianos, counter bass, to drums. I was given a tour of the music rooms by a guitarist who was practicing there. The studios are open to the public and are as cheap as five euros for one session.
The sessions last for 1 hour.
Along with the studios, Les Frigos also offers various courses in music. All of the classes are taught by independent musicians who live or work inside the fridges. All different types of instruments are taught here. Music, however, is not the only artistic platform being taught.
The space offers painting, photography, sculpting and theater courses. The website is slightly disorganized (organization is not their main priority) and it can be hard to find which workshops are taking place when. My suggestion would be to make your way over sometime in the morning and ask around for information on upcoming workshops. There will certainly be something worth checking out.
Leaving Les Frigos
After spending close to two hours inside Les Frigos, I exited and found myself once again on the clean, art-free streets of Paris. I am becoming more and more attracted to spots like this. There is something so reassuring about areas of free art and communal participation.
Paris is a high-class city and is known for its elite and expensive museums and monuments. That being said, there is also a thriving community of artists and adventurers seeking to find new ways of expression outside of classical norms and convention. If you are interested in these sort of alternative places, there are many more hidden gems lurking just around the corner.