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Inside This French City, There's a Littler City Where the People Are 3 Inches Tall

Travel into the heart of Nantes, a western French city of around 900,000 souls, and you'll find yourself at the gates of another, much smaller metropolis. Dollhouse-sized apartment towers rise from a dirt lot, cracked and looking like they were recently bombed; lurking behind windows and milling on the streets are business-suited men so tiny they'd be crushed under a normal human foot. And they look like they're fully expecting that to happen, what with the way they're posed in suicidal positions and have worry-wart grimaces on their little hamster faces.

France's newest civilization of Mopeville was the creation of Spanish artist Isaac Cordal, who fabricated more than 2,000 pieces to build the 66-by-60-foot installation. It's the latest work of public art for Cordal, who's known for infesting cities with teensy homunculi he casts from concrete, and is part of the annual celebration of public art, "Le voyage a Nantes." The festival's organizers write that it felt natural to choose Cordal to rep Nantes this year:

This year, given his obsessions, Isaac Cordal was an obvious choice to take part in celebrating Nantes as this year’s Green Capital. Not unlike Huang Yong Ping’s sea serpent in Saint-Brevin [in 2012], Cordal is the bearer of bad news regarding the state of our civilization. His tiny, hardworking and sad men are even able to make us laugh. They have spread throughout the city in their grey suits, never letting go of their attaché-cases, and drowning in puddles or the castle’s moats.

Cordal's concrete offspring don't enjoy easy lives – they get sunk waist-deep in soil, covered by inquisitive snails, and positioned on top of grave mounds like what a child might build for a dead canary. It's no different in the Nantes work, titled "Follow the Leaders I." They stand dejectedly around a well, kneel in front of riot police, hover on the roof of a building as if pondering whether to jump, and are half-lodged in dirt like the earth decided to eat them. The installation is meant as a "critical reflection on our inertia as a social mass," the artist says, which he asserts is associated with "businessmen who run the global social spectrum."

Have a look at those businessmen getting their comeuppance in "Leaders," which will be on display in the medieval-era Place du Bouffay until September 1:

Images used with permission of Isaac Cordal

John Metcalfe is a staff writer at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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