Tuesday, 13 October 2009

No Ball Games

by Joshua Surtees

Recently, while walking through a council estate in Wood Green where I live, I noticed a small boy repeatedly throwing a basketball against a sign that clearly read 'No Ball Games'. Now, I don't know whether kids are subversive at age 10 or just naughty, but this was a deliciously brazen act. He was bouncing the ball, I believe it's called dribbling, and then using the sign as his 'hoop'. If only I'd had a camera to hand (oh but wait, it's illegal to photograph minors...as my brother recently found out when trying to take a photograph of his own son at a cafe). I particularly liked how the basketball kid looked around occasionally, just to check if anyone was looking. It was genius, and added a needed touch of comedy to an otherwise bleak scene of garages, concrete and prohibitive signs.

A couple of days later while reading the Tottenham and Wood Green Journal, I happened across an article featuring a Banksy story. Banksy has come to Tottenham and given us a beautiful new piece of art. What is interesting about this story, as with all Banksy street art, is the debate about what should be done with the piece. The owner of the building (which houses a Polish grocery shop and, I believe, a kebab shop) clearly has the right to remove the painting (as has been done many times in London before people cottoned on to the fact that Banksy is one of our greatest current artists). Apparently the owner is still debating what to do about it. Haringey council meanwhile, not wanting to appear culturally ignorant, have erected a Perspex shield around the piece to protect it and "to draw visitors to the area". Hahaha...if you have ever been to this junction in the heart of Tottenham you will know why NO visitors will EVER be drawn here by ANYTHING....it's grim). Perspex, you will recall, also covers a Banksy piece on Essex Road. While the reflective plastic does tend to deface and emasculate these pieces somewhat, at least councils are now protecting them, and drawing attention to them rather than chemically removing them.

It is, however, an interesting dilemma. If the owner is a Neanderthal and has never heard of Banksy he could have it removed. Which brings us to an interesting debate about ownership; who really does ‘own’ this piece? Can the artist claim ownership or is he technically a vandal? Does the building owner have the right to remove, alter, cover or indeed sell it as his own personal property? Does this piece of art belong to the community at large and everybody who walks past it and beholds it? I do not have the answers to these questions but I do feel that areas like Tottenham deserve this kind of adornment. This is now (hopefully) a permanent artwork on display and touching local people’s everyday lives. It is exactly the kind of subversion of the restrictions society places upon individuals that De Certeau would be proud of. In areas with bleak prospects and living environments, the inspiration, aesthetic uplift and humour that such work can bring is invaluable.

I also feel strongly that senior figures within the artistic community should do more to encourage high quality street art. In cities like Lisbon or Paris I have seen vibrant examples of street art which appear to be understood and celebrated by the local residents and artist communities. London, meanwhile, until fairly recently had a blanket policy of removing any so-called ‘graffiti’ from its streets. Artists such as Banksy have made great strides in altering perceptions and, indeed, differentiating between ‘tagging’ artists, whose mission is to simply proliferate their monolithic symbols as widely as they can, and ‘real’ street artists.

To end, I refer back to the aforementioned ball-throwing kid and share with you some of the thoughts that his wanton act instigated in my mind: Was he referencing Banksy in his act of juvenile delinquency? Was he sending out a big 'fuck you' to Haringey council, to the government, to the state, to the authorities who create these stupid signs? Will he be the next Michael Jordan and grow up to tell the stories of how he used to have to use a sign for a hoop? Will he grow up to be a nihilist, an anarchist, an agitator, a political activist, an anti-capitalist demonstrator, a football hooligan? Was it simply that he could not speak English, or was perhaps illiterate, and therefore couldn't understand the sign or the significance of his act? Or was he just a naughty kid chucking a ball against a sign? Whatever the facts behind this extraordinary sight are, it was a beautiful, beautiful thing to observe. Thank you small boy, whoever you are.

And you can read/see more about Banksy and other street art from around the world at this rather pleasant website

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  1. Oh I think that it's surely the community who own the new Banksy. Isn't it?

    Isn't that the point of street art?

    Perhaps I'm totally wrong (it has been known), but I've always thought things like this, where the individual tag or sketch is important, but not as important as the collaborative work, is one of the more beautiful examples of modern society actually working.

    Funny really isn't it? Haringey council has been trying to "improve" Tottenham for the last 15 years and has always spectacularly failed, Banksy comes along and achieves it over night. Literally.

    By the way, I once saw a man in Bolivia urinating up against a wall that had "no urinating on this wall" graffitied on it. Poetic.

  2. I love street art, graff whatever it is the kids call it these days. Well actually I know what they call it, graffiti or taggs. Some of it is undoubtably art, and like some of the best art some of it says something about the world we live in (this tounge in cheek view of capitalist britain is arguably what made Bansky so famous)

    I for once however can see the councils predicament. If we allow Bansky, what other street art do we allow? Some of it is utter pants, and most definately would not improove the environment. I refer to the simple and humble tag. Many of which look like a bird (the winged variety) has tried to scratch its name in some weird ritual that involves poor spelling and ironic swiggley lines. But I digress.

    Who ones art? Is that not the question rather than who ones a Bansky. My law is a bit rusty but I am pretty sure that if Mr.Bansky was to stencil on the side of my car, which I own, I would infact 'own' this Bansky peice. If I rented said car, then the rental company would 'own' the piece. But what at everybody who looks at my car and smiles alittle, do they have some claim? Legally I am not sure they do!

    The one person who has no claim what so ever to the work is Bansky himself. As far as I am concerned once it is out of your head it is fair game. Let me explain, I have on occasion written songs ranging from something that should reside firmly on the lips of a home and away character when they are forming a band for a summer bay fundraiser to songs that are actually pretty good. But once I have performed such a song (the equivilant of actualy going and putting a piece of art on display) it is out of my hands. I have given up my claim to it. People do with what they want. It is perfectly possible that I could become famous and a song personal song that i wrote about my situation becomes somebody elses 'first dance' or some couple will be sitting in resturant and hear my sweet sweet melodies and go "oooh darling thats OUR song"..well actually no its not my pride and prejudice reject, it is infact MY song, I wrote it, about ME... Banksy at best can claim intellectual ownership of the piece. This is unquestionable but also impossible to allocate as Bansky has chosen to remain anonymous, something which probably shows he isn't fussed about the ownership question. This could also be evidenced by the fact that even when people have chisled off Banksy peices and sold them for hundreds of thousands, he still hasn't come forth. Although this maybe because he now gets commisions from various hollywood types.

    Ownership issue addressed (though probably not answered)I return to the motives of our little delinquent. And I have decided he may just infact be a naughty boy. I based this judgement on the following. That most children think Irony is something your mum does so that your dad's shirts aren't all wrinkly.

  3. The other day I stood beneath the very same 'No Ball Games'sign and played with my balls.

    I did this whilst photographing minors.

    As for Banksy, his art is studenty toss. I really wish he would stop making a bloody mess on street walls/buildings.

  4. whoever owns the freehold on the building owns the piece of art. it really is that straightforward. a further point to consider: as banksy prefers to remain anonymous, how can we ever be sure that this piece in tottenham (or any others around the world, for that matter) is actually done by him. it might just be a local "biting" his style..