A couple of weeks ago two new Banksy works appeared in the UK. This news is the perfect opportunity for a look at the relationship between art and culture. One new work strikes at the phone hacking scandal whilst the other has caused controversy after being removed just hours after it first appeared in the media.
Banksy has his own traits and styles yet there will still be some inspirations from other artists both in street art and more generally. One could speculate that his stencils are moving in the direction of an internet meme. More importantly however, these new stencils take inspiration from current media and culture.
‘Mobile Lovers’ (top and above) depicts a couple reading their phones over each others shoulders. Their faces are close but their gaze doesn’t quite meet. This statement by Banksy challenges our culture of constant phone usage and relates with current news.
Since being identified as a Banksy the work was removed by Dennis Stinchcombe, leader of Broad Plain & Riverside Youth Project. Dennis aimed to sell the work to raise funds for the youth group arguing that Banksy had “left it as a gift” to help the club despite the work not actually being on the club grounds. Whilst the club might be a worthy cause of the money he hoped to raise theft surely shouldn’t be the way to go about raising the funds.
Subsequently Bristol City Council have claimed ownership of the removed board as it was on their property before being taken by Stinchcombe. The artwork now resides temporarily in a museum while the council wait for a response from Banksy as to clarify his intentions for the piece. Mr Stinchcombe commented “Obviously I still think it’s ours,” a donation box for the club is beside the art in the museum.
The multiple claims to the piece raises the question of ownership. Banksy as the creator maintains at least the right to call it his in the sense that is his design however, as with all street art, if the property owner doesn’t give permission for the installation it was not legally put there.
Stinchcombe’s claim is essentially ‘finders keepers’ which is perhaps redundant in modern society. Even if someone were to leave a car or bike unlocked on the street it would not be right to take it.
Bristol City Council have the best claim as the art was created on their property. Despite this they have acted responsibly and are hoping to find out from Banksy himself what should become of the piece.
This isn’t the first time Banksy pieces have been removed or caused controversy and many have fetched high prices at auction. The danger with street art is that it is not permanent, but by taking this risk street artists make their work public and available to all; perhaps another reason the work should not be auctioned off to a private buyer. A Banksy once appeared in Southampton in Bevois Valley but sadly was vandalised soon after.
The second stencil also concerns a subject in the eye of British media. ‘Spy Booth’ (below) is positioned such that a BT phone box is featured within the work.
Three spies surround the phone booth with old/stereotypical phone tapping equipment. This is obviously a reference to ‘Hackgate’, and whilst the figure look shady Banksy does not directly cast an opinion on the topic. The men in brown coats could be government officials and it is likely the placement has some meaning or target. This piece in Cheltenham, home of GCHQ, is on Hewlett Road, just a 10 minute drive from the head quarters.
As a final note the two pieces at first seemingly unconnected have the common theme of communication and ‘Mobile Lovers’ compliments ‘Spy Booth’.