I’ve fired off some snippy comments over the last day or so regarding the kerfuffle about Banksy’s stencil of a parachuting rat being destroyed in Melbourne and want to unpack this a bit.
The ABC reported (“Banksy rat destroyed by builders“) that the 15-year old piece was destroyed to make way for some piping, and some Melbourne residents are none too happy about it, with one person saying:
“They have unconsciously taken a part of Melbourne, taken a part of history which is really important to do with street art, and just destroyed it without even thinking about it.”
Looking at the footage in the ABC article, it looks almost as if the builders intentionally aimed at the stencil, as if to clean up a piece of graffiti.
I must admit I don’t find the stencil the least bit inspiring, but it is sad that someone’s work now has a drain running through it. Yet it strikes me that arguing that this piece was worth $50,000, as was said in the article, misses the point entirely.
What intrigues me about all this is the whole movement behind it. My understanding about art in general – let alone street art – is ham-fisted and perhaps even Philistine - but I get the part about rallying against established norms; what is (or just perceived) to be societal pressure to be or act in a certain way; and the general compulsion to stand up and make your voice heard.
To me that’s the important part. Anything that emerges from this ethos is more an artefact of the philosophy and not necessarily something of intrinsic significance.
If the local business owner cited in the ABC article is correct, it would seem that Banksy might agree:
“I’ve had contact with [Banksy] over the years and he paints with a friend of mine in New York, but he would probably laugh that there’s so much attention around something that he’s just done as a part of his lifestyle every day,” she said.
To put this in a different context, let’s take the whole notion of edupunk (though that term may no longer mean what it used to). The philosophy of DIY ed tech is to combat the corporatisation of education, and to actively rally against software that caters more to a business’s bottom line that it does students and teachers; to call shenanigans on institutional rules and regulations that serve no purpose for the learning process.
This is an ethos. It’s a philosophy. The blogs, wikis, and other external tools are adopted as part of the process and the philosophy, not the end result of it. If sites are shut down along the way, it’s unfortunate, but the ethos remains regardless.
The ultimate sacrilege would be the death of the ethos, not the decommissioning of a blog that emerged from it.
So while the Death of the Banksy Rat is an unfortunate loss of an artefact, it is not the death of the movement that inspired it, and that’s a really important distinction.