Kipp in Paris

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For my money, Kipp Normand stands as the most interesting man in Indianapolis.

A proud product of Detroit and adopted Circle City son, Kipp is a self-taught, self-described, "junk artist," creating wonderful sculptures from antique found objects for the past decade.

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Kipp has been a pitchman for Doritos, he constructed one of the best site-specific installations at IDADA's 2012 Turf show, he crafted the Arti Awards for this year's Start with Art, and he's even been the subject of a short documentary featured in 2012's Heartland Film Festival. Oh, and he plays the saw.

Through the lens of his M.A. in American Studies at Notre Dame, Kipp Normand really sees our city in a way few other people do.

"Indianapolis certainly is a city that rewards curious exploration," Kipp observed when we chatted at the Foundry Provisions coffee shop and eatery, across the street from where he maintains his studio emporium on the second floor of the Harrison Center for the Arts. "I absolutely encourage people to be a tourist in their own city."

For someone who admits that he doesn't like to take long trips, Kipp had returned from almost a fortnight in the City of Light in October, sent there through an August art sale fundraiser put on by a legion of friends.

"I was a little mortified by the idea at first," he confessed. "I thought 'who on earth is going to want to come to a fundraiser so they can send a ne'er-do-well like myself to Paris for his 50th birthday?'"

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I myself have been fortunate enough to explore Paris right out of college, but I really wanted to find out what this neo-Francophile and architecture maven thought about Paris, and how that experience might influence his thoughts about our fair city.

"Paris has been a center of human culture for more than 1,000 years, but it always reinvents itself periodically," he said. "The city hasn't been destroyed through bombing or some sort of cataclysmic disaster or neglect like many American cities have. There's all kinds of history, but it's a living city."

The city's wide boulevards and grand vistas segue into a labyrinth of crisscrossing narrow side streets and odd corners that can confound even those with an impeccable sense of direction. "Once I got lost a couple of times on my own," Kipp said, "I stopped getting worked up about it because I knew I was going to discover something fantastic."

Kipp was surprised to discover how French cultural identity is so fused into the mélange of city life and infrastructure. "You can walk down the street and suddenly stumble upon an art gallery that specializes in 19th-century photography," he said, "or right across the street, there might be a bookstore that is all about history, and next door to it is a bookstore about marionettes."

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In Paris, curious shops like these win out over corporate, market-focused outposts. It's the ultimate in specialty shops and buylocal: phrases that cities like Indy bandy about as they seek to establish their civic character while chain stores muscle their way into neighborhoods.

"I think the culture of the city is something that can be nurtured," he added. "It can be grown and developed. And all it takes is enough people who care about it, and pretty soon it becomes contagious."

"Instead of obliterating older buildings and architecture with the steamroller of urban renewal, Paris embraces its past while sometimes repurposing it for modern use," Kipp said. "They're very fond of gilded stuff, but at the same time, the city is not a museum. Right across the street from the apartment where we stayed, there was this little church that was built in 1542, so I had to go there and go to Mass."

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