JR and José Parlá, Wrinkles of the City: Havana, Cuba – Alfonso Ramón Fontaine Batista, 2012
Courtesy joseparla.com

With José Parlá’s solo show now on view at Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery in New York’s Chelsea district, and French artist JR’s haunting photo installation recently opened on Ellis Island, it seems like a good time to revisit their collaboration for the 11th Havana Biennial, by way of a recently released documentary.

Co-directed by JR and Parlá, Wrinkles of the City: Havana, Cuba (Los Surcos de la ciudad: La Habana, Cuba) is a 28-minute, bilingual record of the Biennial project, in which the two artists installed wall-sized portraits of elderly Habaneros on more than 20 buildings around the city.

The film unfolds in a casual, conversational way, focusing on the people that JR and Parlá meet as they search the city for photographic subjects and potential walls for the murals. Later, they’re shown trying to defuse the anger of local residents who object to Parlá’s abstract, graffiti-like embellishments of the portraits.

As Parlá explains to one of the portrait subjects, his spray-painted lines “are like your thoughts, your memories. It’s a calligraphy that represents a language.” The film ends with a sequence of the elderly subjects viewing their enormous portraits for the first time. “Now I think I can die satisfied,” says one, “because the world knows who I am.” Another angles for a second chance. “I wanted, if you ever do another one,” he says, “to wear a different hat that is really nice.”

For a look at Parlá’s current work, including a mural intended for the new World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan, see the 5-minute video interview recently posted on Blouin Artinfo. The exhibition José Parlá: In Media Res runs through October 18 at Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery.

JR’s Unframed – Ellis Island is accessible through guided tours of Ellis Island, where it remains on view indefinitely. For a New York Times slide show of the installation, click here.