Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by The Art Newspaper, an editorial partner of CNN Style.

CNN  — 

The French street artist JR has unveiled perhaps his most complex Italian trompe l’oeil illusion piece yet, turning a square outside Milan’s Stazione Centrale railway station into a temporary exhibition site of epic proportions. Entitled La Nascita (The Birth), the piece evokes a rugged Alpine terrain with layered black-and-white images. Part historical reflection, part social experiment, it aims to turn the station — the city’s busiest transport hub and a notorious hotspot for petty crime — into a place of chance encounters.

“In spaces that have social issues, my work is about bringing people together,” JR told The Art Newspaper during a launch event for the work in Piazza Duca D’Aosta, a vast square in the shadow of the station’s 50m-tall facade. “In a place like this, a huge range of people come to catch the train. When they find themselves in front of an exhibition, they will suddenly have a different kind of interaction.”

JR had been mulling over an installation in the square for some time. “Even before Covid I was thinking of doing something here, but my first idea was to do something on the floor, so I was scouting from up there,” he said, pointing at a grand hotel overlooking the square. “I never found the right idea, and eventually forgot about it.”

The installation — which is timed to coincide with Milan Design Week, and runs until May 1 — harks back to a golden age of rail travel in northern Italy. Decades before dictator Benito Mussolini inaugurated the station in the 1930s as a monument to Fascist power and might, King Vittorio Emmanuele III laid its symbolic foundation stone in 1906, shortly after the completion of the trans-Alpine Simplon tunnel that connects Italy and France, and turned Milan into a transport hub.

Commissioned by Stazione Centrale, the piece evokes the mountains from which the tunnel was excavated, with paper images glued onto vertical slats and distributed to form a layered composition with the station visible behind. As with JR’s previous installations at Florence’s Palazzo Strozzi and Rome’s Palazzo Farnese in 2021, the artist creates the effect of a gash — this time a tunnel-like void — cutting through the grand building.

However, while the Florence and Rome projects consisted of flat images mounted onto the fronts of the buildings, in Milan JR has tried to create a sense of depth. “It is the first time I do something like this with many layers,” the artist said. “The building is pretty intimidating, I rarely work on buildings that are this big,” he added. “It took me a while to really work out how to get through that station.”

JR hopes the installation will show the area in a new light.

“While the exhibition is temporary, even when it’s gone visitors will never see (the station) in the same way,” JR said. “Changing perspectives on things is always a way of looking at the world differently, and that’s what I always aim to do, no matter the circumstances.”