Wired has a great story on Urban eXperiment in Paris titled The New French Hacker-Artist Underground. I’ve heard little bits about Untergunther through other stories via Urban Exploration, but Jon Lackman gives a fresh narrative to the information.
UX’s most sensational caper (to be revealed so far, at least) was completed in 2006. A cadre spent months infiltrating the Pantheon, the grand structure in Paris that houses the remains of France’s most cherished citizens. Eight restorers built their own secret workshop in a storeroom, which they wired for electricity and Internet access and outfitted with armchairs, tools, a fridge, and a hot plate. During the course of a year, they painstakingly restored the Pantheon’s 19th- century clock, which had not chimed since the 1960s. Those in the neighborhood must have been shocked to hear the clock sound for the first time in decades: the hour, the half hour, the quarter hour.
It reminded me how shocking it is to learn the reactions to much of their work, and how it parallels work and reactions by others. Instead of being celebrated for their good deeds, they are villainized. In the case of the clock, it ends up almost being a case of spite:
… the administration later decided to sue UX, at one point seeking up to a year of jail time and 48,300 euros in damages. Jeannot’s then-deputy, Pascal Monnet, is now the Pantheon’s director, and he has gone so far as to hire a clockmaker to restore the clock to its previous condition by resabotaging it. But the clockmaker refused to do more than disengage a part—the escape wheel, the very part that had been sabotaged the first time. UX slipped in shortly thereafter to take the wheel into its own possession, for safekeeping, in the hope that someday a more enlightened administration will welcome its return.
Reading the article one gets the sense that a lot of the flak they take is because they are exposing incompetence, but I wonder if there is also an element of mistrust for altruism. Either way, it means much of their work goes on in secret.