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January 5, 2010

Space Invader

Filed under: Space Invader, Travel — anotherheader @ 2:39 am

LDN-051, an Invader found in London

Documented Invaders: 40

Invader points: 350

“What are those things about?” I asked Becky, pointing to a mosaic of tiles arranged in the style of an old video game style affixed to the side of a building about 10 feet off of the ground. We were in Bilbao Spain in May of 2009.

I didn’t expect an answer.

We first noticed these unusual mosaics in Bilbao Spain and then later on our trip in Barcelona. In unpredictable locations, a flash of color would catch the eye. We’d look and see a carefully arranged set of tiles creating an simple pixilated image.

A damaged LDN-059 with the Thames and Big Ben in the background

Indeed Becky did not have an answer. Nor did I. But we kept seeing the mosaics when we least expected. What could the tile’s purpose be? The tiles looked uniform and somehow official. The installation was professional. But we could think of no role and no conceivable purpose.

Intrigued, we searched the Internet when we return home. We learned that a Parisian has placed pixilated early era video game themed tile mosaics in visible public spaces around the world. The “invasions” started in Paris 1998. Inspired by teenage trips to London on the cross-Channel ferry playing Pac-Man and Space Invaders, the Parisian’s whimsy has evolved into a major endeavor. Somewhere along the way, the Parisian artist chose the name “Space Invader” for his alter ego. By 2009, Space Invader’s mosaic’s have spread to more than 40 cities and counting around the world.

The invasions are not with out their critics. For some, the tile mosaics are vandalism. Others say they are art. Andrew Sharpley shares a story about one of Invader’s spontaneous urban decoration attempts in “Invasion in the U.K.”

Space Invader's book, "Invasion in the U.K."

“This was attempted most famously in 2000 when the self-styled ‘space-invader’ invaded the Louvre with his mosaics, only to be thrown about by the security staff, and then, the next day, defended in a press conference by the museum’s director, who, obviously not wishing to be outdone, announced to the assembled hacks that she considered them [the mosaics] as ‘artistically valid.’”


When Eurostar Customs Officers stopped Invader in 1999 and his mosaic tiles were discovered, one of the officers kept repeating, “This is not artistic, this is criminal!

Like all spontaneous works of street art, there is an intrinsic conflict. Works of street art, though often uninvited, sometimes persist for years. In places like Valparaiso Chile, street art reaches a peak both in its quality and its acceptance. The graffiti art is no longer an eyesore. Instead it has become a reason for a visit. In itself, it has become a tourist attraction. But the natural process for the selection of works of street art for perseverance is imperfect. Favored works of art are more likely to persist on a wall than the teenager’s hastily spray painted “Joey Loves Sally.” Location matters, but so does the content. I wouldn’t be happy if a gang member tagged my front fence in Belmont. But if Invader put up his tiles my fence, they’d stay there. Shit, I’d even keep the bushes trimmed so the mosaic could be seen easily from the street.

Street Art in Valpo

Perhaps it is the edge, the audacity of Invader’s tile images that is part of the appeal. The mosaics must both tease and frustrate the building owners and city managers. It is part of the plan.

For us, spotting Invaders seemed like a great urban travel game. Looking for the mosaics mandates closer observation of your environment. It takes you to parts of cities that you would otherwise not visit. In looking for the invader tiles, you find other things, small details that you weren’t looking for. Sometimes you see the whimsical result of a craftsman’s long forgotten labors. Other times it is the surprising aesthetic in a piece of urban decay. Guidebooks don’t tell you about the quirky fountain tucked in on a back street, loved but almost forgotten by the neighbors, or the funky oval-shaped park tucked into a grid section of a city. Details like these don’t warrant an entry in Lonely Planet. But they do form an indelible and personal memory of the place you are visiting. These minutiae would not be found by a casual visitor unless there was a quest to find or see something else.

Where's the Invader?

So, after a little online research and the purchase of Invader’s “Invasion in the U.K.” guide we were ready. Our search for the tile interlopers would begin on the streets of London.

(To see all of our Space Invader blog entries click on “Space Invader” in the category cloud or on this link:

Space Invader:

LDN-069 up close

Find out more about Space Invader on his website (hint: click on the mosaics to dig deeper on the website):

(Invader has assigned points to his various Invaders though they are inconsistently available on maps and on the web. I can’t find the points for all of the cities that Invader has visited. We’re not sure whether Invader’s point system is meant for people like us to keep score or for Invader himself. I suspect it doesn’t matter. We will keep track of the results of our search for invaders in future blog entries.)

Our Invader Talley

Not in the table is LDN-094 which was removed (30 pts)

City Number Points Saw?
1 LDN 49 10 0 removed
2 LDN 50 10 0 removed
3 LDN 51 10 1
4 LDN 58 10 1
5 LDN 59 10 1
6 LDN 61 20 1
7 LDN 66 20 0 removed
8 LDN 68 10 1
9 LDN 69 20 1
10 LDN 70 20 1
11 LDN 72 20 1
12 LDN 73 30 0 Removed, Binary Sid Vicious
13 LDN 79 10 0 removed
14 LDN 80 20 0 removed
15 LDN 81 20 0 removed
16 LDN 83 30 0 removed
17 LDN 87 20 0 removed
18 LDN 88 30 1
19 LDN 44 0 Believed to be removed
20 LDN 90 0 Building destroyed
21 LDN 63 Building destroyed
22 BBO 4 1 score not determined


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