Discover an amazing urban art in an abandoned rice factory in the French Camargue!13 June 2023
If someone had told me that the Camargue had one of the most incredible urban art sites in France, I really wouldn’t have believed them. The Camargue and its infinite spaces, the beauty of the Giraud salt marshes at sunset, the wild horses, the meadows with their bulls, it all smells of unspoilt nature, untamed by man, rather than spray paint! But then I heard about an abandoned Urbex site, a rice factory with a dark history, and two friends stumbled across it by chance and sent me some photos… I immediately recognised the signatures of urban artists from the South of France, who also put up their work all over France. My blood ran cold! I absolutely had to discover this place, which looked more than promising! So it was with my Girl Scouts that I decided to venture in, because I knew in advance that these abandoned places could be dangerous!
Entering the Soleil Levant rice factory is to feel the troubled past of these abandoned premises!
Don’t worry! I didn’t open any padlocks with a pair of pliers ;-). When you arrive in front of the rice factory, the building facing the road is rather small. The rusty signs still show the old typography and it’s been a long time – since school – since I read the name “Franco-Indochinoise”, which immediately caught my eye… You don’t have to climb to get in. To the left of this building, a few metal fences leave a royal way for visitors. As soon as you set foot inside the site, you get a better idea of its immensity… In fact, a building four and then six storeys high almost tells you to visit it!
On the ground floor of this rice factory, I’m rather reassured, the building seems to be in good condition and I lightly discover some more or less elaborate blazes created by local graffiti artists… It’s colourful, friendly and the slightly cracked floor looks strong. Besides, I’m only a metre from the cow floor, so there’s nothing to panic about! But I have to admit that for my first taste of urban art in the Camargue, I’m wondering if I didn’t rush headlong into this strange place!
I hope the hunt upstairs will be more fruitful! On arriving on the 1st floor, amidst the caterpillar tracks and rubble of machinery, I recognised a few signatures, like Fuego‘s and Djalouz‘s, which was starting to make me seriously happy… But at the same time I realised that the floors had collapsed in places and that I was going to have to be a bit more vigilant…
I also realise that those steel machines must have been furiously noisy and the working conditions abominable… And that’s when I start thinking about this Franco-Indochinese “alliance”. In fact, the boom in Camargue rice owes a lot to the Indochinese… Even though the company proudly wears the Franco-Indochinese sign, this masks a completely different reality… the reality is that thousands of Indochinese were forcibly immigrated to replace the men who left for the front during the Second World War. 20,000 MOI (meaning Indigenous Labour Force at the time) were uprooted and found themselves “working” without pay in France… Including 500 in the Camargue who brought their knowledge of rice fields and rice while being treated like slaves. Frankly, this colonialist past sends a chill down my spine and the place seems less and less sympathetic… Some strange things must have happened in this rice factory… and this machine for making heads fits in well with the rather gloomy history of the place.
There’s a strange atmosphere in this building, and the increasingly dilapidated floors are starting to stress me out a bit, while my Girl Scouts are running around like teenagers! I concentrate on my feet and try to get closer to the very aquatic graffiti on this floor and the beautiful view.
I turned round and saw Djalouz‘s magnificent, hyper-dynamic 3D lettering in the distance! I’m so used to seeing his work in the streets of Paris; at spot 13, in Pantin and even in New York that I’m over the moon to see a signature that’s familiar to me!
If you look closely at Djalouz‘s work, you’ll see that it’s set on a map of the world! In fact, the caption says that it’s a map of the German General Staff! Well, if you’ve ever seen this type of map, you’ll know that it’s not! In fact, if this urban legend persists, it’s simply because this rice factory was occupied by the Kriegsmarine, the German navy during the Second World War! And yes, the history of this place is really gloomy, as the Nazis added military stars to the watchtower of the building I’m in!
To finish off my visit to this building steeped in history, I took a footbridge leading to another building… Before I got there, I spotted a beautiful, well-crafted blaze that told me I might be on to something! Opposite me is a strange character that looks like a teddy bear/pig, and on my right there are a few scraps of writing that I’d like to attribute to One Pesca – but I’m not sure… Once I’ve crossed the footbridge, an equally dilapidated building awaits me… I’m delighted to find Amsted‘s warm arabesques again. And then, behind a lettering worked with a silver spray can, a face created by the artist from the South of France, Manyoly, in a room that barely has a floor! What danger she had to face to create this now inaccessible face!
As I know that urban art in the Camargue can’t be summed up by these two abandoned buildings, nor by this Urbex rice factory, I decide to continue my discovery by starting to descend with great care 😉
The foremen’s house is small in size… but great for its artwork!
Walking through the ruins of these factories, you could almost forget that nature has taken over. Some passages are almost bucolic.
Back at my starting point, I set my sights on the small building I could see from the outside. Inside, I discovered pretty mouldings, elaborate wooden doors and beautiful old terracotta floor tiles that contrasted sharply with the rough concrete buildings from which I had just emerged. Everything tells me that this is the foremen’s house!
What a surprise it was to discover an anamorphic work by Braga in the first room! Admittedly, this artist is from the south of France, and he has produced a superb cat in Port de Bouc and other rather humorous works in the Clos du Chêne near Paris… But I really wasn’t expecting to see such a signature in this abandoned place!
And when it came to surprises, I was in for a treat, as in the next room a work by the artist Madame was waiting for me… I’m so used to seeing her poetic work in my part of Paris, near Porte de la Chapelle, that I was left speechless!
My visit to the foremen’s house ended there… a room on the ground floor was walled off and I have to admit that the look of the staircase, with a smoked skull and crossbones at the beginning, didn’t encourage me to see what was going on upstairs! Instead, I decided to take a look at the following buildings.
An unlikely building with some surprises in store!
To get into this building, which is a little further away from the foremen’s house, I wonder at first whether I should go through the window or the door! About ten metres above what seems to be the entrance door, a piece of corrugated iron sways dangerously in the wind! I took off and was already inside!
As I have no knowledge of rice factories, I have no idea what this building was used for… In the centre, lengthways, there are two huge trenches that were supposed to collect the grain falling from the concrete silos. On the ceiling are rusty old hooks hanging from the concrete framework ten metres above my head. But my first pleasant surprise was to come across the signature of One Pesca on an old rusty roller shutter. I told myself I hadn’t been dreaming when I thought I recognised his lettering!
This building has walls that could house some fairly structured works, but it’s on the posts of the structure that we find the most interesting; a somewhat frightening character by Braga and also a somewhat troy rhinoceros that must have been magnificent… Unfortunately it was impossible for me to identify its author!
There are a few characters, some quite funny, some intriguing black & white blazes; a whole host of small works, and in fact it’s a little disappointing because the architecture of this place is quite simply magical… Through a small breakthrough I escape to another horizon… which at first glance immediately delights me with characters that you want to adopt or sketch depending on your state of mind!
Warehouses transformed into a “Hall of Fame” by graffiti artist Copa KZO!
The warehouses are huge. The ceilings are incredibly high and the corrugated iron, pierced over the years, lets lines of light into this immense space. I can see straight away that the lower parts of the walls have been taken over by graffiti artists, especially Copa KZO, who has created hundreds of characters here! He’s turned the place into his own Hall of Fame! Pure madness! Before highlighting his many achievements, I did make a few surprising finds. The first is a portrait of Mr Difuz; I recognised his pencil line in the eyebrows of his male character, but as for the female character, I’m still not sure it’s his… Since this work, Mr Difuz has been creating much more dynamic frescoes 😉
The further I went into the warehouses, the more my feet slipped on small, very hard plastic balls. I’d already noticed these balls in the first building and naively thought that they were used in the rice process… So I decided to take a closer look and realised that as well as having been a major site for the German General Staff, the rice factory is also the playground of Airsoft enthusiasts… these big kids who play at war with air rifles and plastic balls! I’m definitely going from one surprise to the next… I continue my exploration, avoiding the slippery slope! I spotted a very graphic work by Bakool and a multitude of blazes as I like them. It’s obviously impossible to recognise the signatures of the graffiti artists, as my exploration of urban art in the Camargue has only just begun! But if you know them, don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments so that I can mention them in the article 😉
While my friends marvelled and enthused as never before at a suspended pushchair skeleton falling surprisingly into one of these rays of light… I continued my investigations and tried to list and sometimes recognise all the characters that Copa KZO had placed on the premises; and that’s no easy task! The cover of the article with Salador Dalí, that’s him! With Copa KZO, every character is represented: film stars like Silvester Stallone, cult movie characters like Gollum, iconic cartoon characters from all eras like Dragon Ball Z, Sponge Bob, Chuky, the Simpsons, etc. A gallery of portraits as astonishing as they are hilarious…
It’s with great enthusiasm that I leave this warehouse and head for the last of the buildings to the north, opposite the road…
A new warehouse and two works whose mystery has yet to be unravelled!
As I entered this huge warehouse, I obviously found a large number of long blazes. The rooms are huge and the walls are quite high, but as in other places, only the bottom of the walls are used by the graffiti artists. I’m delighted to discover that Braga has also put up other works with the BDR Crew and that Copa KZO has been having fun again with some new portraits…
But in fact it’s a work, or rather a character, that intrigues me. At first sight I thought I’d discovered a treasure! A work by the famous and iconic American graffiti artist Futuradosmil! Yes, this work bears many similarities to Futura‘s characters – the distinctive hand lines, the elongated legs, the spiky head… I have to admit it was enough to confuse me that I contacted Futura to find out more! He jokingly replied that he loved rice and the South of France, but that the painting wasn’t his 😉 It’s impossible to know who wrote it! The only thing I know for sure is that he must know Futura‘s work very well!
Another work piqued my curiosity… With the same fine line as the 1st… The aerosol background takes on the air of a watercolour background, creating a Crystal or ice monster that looks as massive as it is fragile. I don’t know if this work is by the same artist as the previous one, but I realise that before leaving this very urbex urban art spot in the Camargue, I already want to come back and unravel its mysteries. To discover new works and find out more about the local graffiti artists!
Should you start your discovery of urban art in the Camargue at the abandoned rice factory?
It’s the first time this question has embarrassed me, I must admit… I’d like to answer with a big YES BUT! Let me explain…
YES, because I don’t think there are any other places with such a concentration of graffiti and artworks as this. Even though I’m still at the beginning of my quest for urban art in the Camargue, I already know that this rice factory is a unique site, and one that’s perhaps unequalled anywhere in France! I’ve never seen a site covering so many thousands of square metres with such a heavy history. Honestly, if I compare it to other abandoned sites like Cala d’en Serra and the Festival Club in Ibiza… We’re at X4 for size and maybe X10 for works… So it would be a huge YES for anyone with an attraction for urban art, graffiti and adventure!
BUT, the place is really very dangerous, and I don’t mince my words! I can’t tell you to go running because that would be too much responsibility. First of all, I’d advise you to wear good walking shoes, cover your arms and legs and at least put a cap on your head. And, of course, go with friends. Avoid windy days, as metal sheets will fall from ceilings and rotting windows could shatter. If you’re not used to Urbex spots, don’t venture upstairs! If you stay on the ground, you’ll be able to discover a huge number of works of art, as demonstrated by the short “live” interview I did there, which you’ll find at the end of this article.
You may think I’m being a bit of a killjoy, but I really don’t want to send you on a wild goose chase and I’d really prefer to get back to you very soon for some new adventures.
As for me, I’ll be slipping on my sneakers again and heading off to a much more accessible location for the next article.
See you soon, and in great shape, for new Street Art adventures!
Take care of yourselves!