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SIC - Free Tyre Check - 22 Nov 2019

Arts / Travelling artist puts suitcase on show

Thomas Philibert and his trusty suitcase. Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

A TRAVELLING ‘vagabond’ artist from France who is hitchhiking across the UK has arrived in Shetland – armed only with a suitcase with an exhibition and some clothes inside.

Thomas Philibert arrived in the isles last week and he is due to exhibit his trusty sidekick La Valise – or the suitcase – at Mareel in Lerwick from Monday.

Inside the suitcase is artwork the social worker has produced, as well as other curious bits and bobs.

Not quite as arty, but just as integral, is Philibert’s clothes and a toothbrush he has used over the last number of weeks as he has hitchhiked his way from France to Shetland.

His ultimate aim is to return back south and catch a flight to Iceland, with the hope that selling artwork will help to part-fund the trip.

During his trip to Shetland, Philibert has exhibited the suitcase at venues like Lerwick Library and The String, while he has indulged in his passion for ‘outsider art’ by visiting Unst’s iconic bus shelter and meeting Yell artist Mike McDonnell.

Philibert started the project in 2014 in the south of France before he decided as an “artistic performance” to try to reach Lapland “only with art”.

He said it also doubles up as a “human experiment” as he travels the world with little money.

“The idea was to only have the suitcase, hitchhike and meet people, and find a place to sleep,” Philibert said.

“I left without really knowing if I would do it, and it surpassed my expectation. I left for seven months, and I reached Lapland and managed to go to Svalbard.

“I came back via Finland and the Baltic states. It was seven months of adventure. I came back and got pretty addicted to it.”

He said he has met “many interesting people” on his journey through the UK so far, including an artist who paints chewing gum on the street in London.

“He took a chewing gum from the street, left it on my suitcase and drew on it,” Philibert said, pointing to the colourful piece of handiwork.

Straight after stepping off the NorthLink ferry in Lerwick, the traveller was put in touch with various contacts in the community.

He only intended to visit Shetland for three to four days, but Philibert and La Valise are set to stay put for longer.

“Really quickly I have had many possibilities in Shetland” he said.

“It doesn’t happen everywhere. If I go to Glasgow to Edinburgh, or London, it’s all big institution. If I send them an email, I get no answer. Here, the people are fantastic.”

Philibert said he usually gets offered a place to stay overnight when on his travels by the people he meets, although he has spent some time camping in Lerwick.

“I feel like a pirate – I accept everything,” he said.

“If everything was always easy, if I were using couch surfing for example I could make my travel more easy, but that’s not the topic. The topic is about art and that’s what I want to talk about and experience.”

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