It’s the iconic symbol of l’amour in the most romantic city in the world. And lovers come from far and wide to pop the question atop this monumental phallus.
Now you can take a satisfying piece of Paris home with you, to do with what you will. Half-Peruvian Paris-based artist Sébastien Lecca has released La Tour Est Folle (a pun on ‘La Tour Eiffel’): a functional rubber objet d’art in the shape of the world-famous love totem, standing proud at 26cm from base to tip (the real thing is 324m high) and available in five colours, of which ‘le fushia explosif et brillant’ is proving most popular.
Unlike most souvenirs you might pick up in Paris, it’s 100% made in France — right down to the packaging — so it’s stimulating the French economy in a big way.
You can see Lecca’s whimsical chalk drawings of foetuses all over the streets of Paris. I followed the trail to his cramped, creaky corner of the famous artists’ squat at 59 Rue Rivoli, a carnival fun-house acid trip of 30 diverse artists working together in a share-house heaving with colour and creativity. It’s open for public drop-ins so you can see the results splattered all over the floors, walls and façade of this grand old six-storey edifice. Here, Lecca insisted I take one of his creations (‘de la couleur de votre choix!’) and cheerfully chatted with me about life, the universe and everything — but mainly about dildos — for a good 30 minutes while bemused visitors wandered in and out.
ML: When I look at La Tour Est Folle, it seems like the most obvious thing in the world to have a sex toy in the shape of the Eiffel Tower. How come no one’s done it before?
SL: It does seem self-evident, but I reflected on it for a year and worked on it for five months, sculpting the ceramic prototype here in the studio. I wanted to create a sex toy and go beyond the taboo of these objects before I had the idea of using the Eiffel Tower. There are little ducks, crocodiles — everything you can imagine — and I knew there was a space for artists in the midst of all that, but didn’t immediately have a concrete idea of what I could do.
ML: So were you walking the streets of Paris one day then suddenly looked up and had your answer?
SL: Well, my middle name is Gustave, like Mr Eiffel, so it’s only natural that I followed in his footsteps! Everyone thinks of the Eiffel Tower as the phallic symbol of Paris. Even Gustave Eiffel thought of it that way; I’ve seen archival sources where he talks about the phallic dimensions of his project and how it would shock people. Tourists in the sex shops of Pigalle ask if such an item exists; it was inevitable that someone would do it, and just happened to be me.
ML: And what have public reactions been like in the first few months?
SL: The gay community loves it, it’s sold well in gay shops; it’s in the Musée de l’Érotisme and other galleries in France, Tokyo and Ibiza; it’s popular with tourists, as a gift for bachelorette parties. A lot of people who buy it are buying a dildo for the first time. Because it stands upright so sturdily on its pillars, there’s talk of using it in safe-sex programs demonstrating how to put on a condom. But above all, it makes people laugh.
ML: It’s an iconic symbol of France, 100% made in France. Do you consider it patriotic?
SL: There’s this paradox that France is ‘the land of love’, the French have an international reputation for being incredibly romantic and sensual, but in terms of export we’re only known for our artisanal products — lavender-scented cream, hand-made chocolates, candles — and not for our objets d’amour. At the moment it’s the German, Swedish, Chinese and American sex toys that are most widely recognised.
To put an end to that paradox, we launched Plaisir de France, an association for manufacturers of sex objects made in France with the objective of cultural diffusion, to increase the visibility and awareness of these products, to democratise our sector of the industry, liaise with export partners, create local jobs…
ML: But as an artist working in a grungy, DIY space like 59 Rue Rivoli, isn’t it strange to be so heavily involved in the commercial and marketing side of flogging your product?
SL: There is no contradiction between business and art. There is only a contradiction between representation and ideology. In reality, an artist is also an entrepreneur. If as an artist you have something to say, you have to find the means to say it. You have to get involved in the marketing, communication and PR side of things.
ML: And is the result still art?
SL: Artists in general have a strong, instinctive curiosity for questions of sexuality. Making love is a creative act; it’s like making art! La Tour Est Folle is effectively art because it’s the realisation of a concept. It’s the conception of a joyous, playful humanising image of sexuality; a vertical vision, from the earth to the sky. Between the extremes of pornography there’s a respectful space where there’s a freedom of expression, where anything is possible.
Le foetus, le phallus, these symbols are all part of the universal themes I explore: life, love, our animal nature. In French imagery, there is the French kiss, the French touch, the romantic capital. I play with that cliché. As an artist, I quickly work out what the cliché is and ask myself how to subvert that, transform that. People don’t just like La Tour Est Folle because it’s a dildo; they like it as a decorative object.
ML: So do you think people use it, give it a wash and polish and then display it on their mantle again?
SL: That’s what’s happening!
ML: What’s next for La Tour Est Folle?
SL: There are plans for a model that lights up, just like the real tower. We’re developing a mini-motor with new technology made in France. And I’ll be touring to Las Vegas, São Paulo and eventually Sydney to represent Le Plaisir de France internationally.
ML: Have you had imitators?
SL: No copies yet, but I’m sure in China without doubt there’ll be a copy on the way. If ours is a little more expensive than something that’s eventually produced in China, it will still be the original, of the best quality available, and 100% made in France.