A news article on ABC radio caught my attention today. A piece of street art by Banksy, one of the parachuting rats, was destroyed by a tradie who was drilling through a wall for a cafe in Prahran, Melbourne. Whoops! The tradie didn’t know who Banksy was, or the significance of the work, which was valued to be in the vicinity of $50,000. Apparently the wall was covered in tags and other indiscriminate art and graffiti and he wasn’t able to discriminate between this and Banksy’s work.
I love street art, and Banksy is up there with the best. I admire people who have the strength to take on their environment and make a comment about where and how they live through art. But I have struggled to work out the line between graffiti and art. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s a little bit harder. The tradesman had no interest or knowledge of street art and I can see how he could easily have made the mistake. After years of working for local government, I have experienced the joys of commissioning public art that will enhance the cultural environment, and the lows of having landscapes and work damaged or destroyed by graffiti and vandalism. I have also endured the complaints and arguments that surround street art – the desire to create it versus the desire to destroy it or “clean it up”.
There are now calls for the City of Melbourne, where many of Banksy’s remaining Australian pieces are located, to create a register of street art. Melbourne’s lane ways are packed with street art. It is interesting and inspiring. I love wandering the lane ways when I visit Melbourne, the transient nature of the street art is dynamic and fascinating. The very nature of street art is that it will change over time. It is a commentary of the current culture, and as that culture changes so will the art that represents it. Is a register that defines what can and can not be altered or destroyed counter to the essential nature of street art?
Whilst it is disappointing that the Banksy rat is no more, is this completely against the nature of his work? I think it there needs to be a clear delineation between what is public art and what is street art and how they are managed. Both have an equally important role within our cultural landscape, but serve different functions. The guerrilla nature of uncommissioned street art will generally mean it has a sharper statement on society, more bite to it’s commentary than work that has been commissioned. To suddenly take a snapshot of the current art and say “no more” will deny the natural transition, growth and evolution of the street art culture, and lose the richness in social commentary that it provides.
Well, that’s my rant for the day!