One of my
most highly prized possessions is something I don’t, strictly speaking,
possess. It exists only in digital form. It’s an email I got ten years ago, and
it’s actually only one word long, plus the signature.

The word is
“thanks”.

The
signature is “Banksy”.

So, with a
long-standing interest in that very elusive person and his art, it’s no wonder that this
Sunday, I ignored my beeping hoax sensors and made the pilgrimage to
Hudiksvallsgatan in Stockholm, where it had been rumoured that Banksy was to show up for some
sort of manifestation.

I wasn’t
alone. See below. Picture taken 15 minutes after the designated starting time,
and more people showed up during the next 15 minutes; my estimate is somewhere
upwards of 2,000 people. Since I was there on my own (as opposed to alone), I
could chat with some people and overhear quite a few conversations. Most
believed it was a hoax, and most believed nothing much would happen, except for
perhaps a video later appearing on YouTube of the police trying to disperse us
and the caption “look what you can make hype-susceptible people do by
using a famous pseudonym”.

Then a
whistle was blown on our left. A lone jogger in sunglasses threaded his way
through the crowd, followed by a woman who said she wasn’t about to miss
anything. People were completely bewildered until the jogger reached the end of
the street, turned around, and waved at us to follow while whistling a couple
more times. (He was obviously more used to, say, rave crowds.)

The crowd—now
pleasantly surprised since something or other was obviously about to happen, or
maybe was already in the process of happening if the excitement was going to be
limited to a short stroll—followed, rather like lemmings don’t do in real life
(only when massacred wholesale by Disney in order to get a better story). We
were led to a condemned building a few blocks away, and after standing in line
for an interminable time (during which many people prepared themselves by pulling
out their phones and watching the exhibition inside on Instagram), we were led
into a room where the writing on the wall proclaimed “This must be the
place”, in a manner very reminiscent of the street artist Akay.

And, well,
it was. First exhibit was a pair of legs (seemingly alive) hanging from the
ceiling. Death of the artist, no less, so I’m explicitly free to add my own
interpretation. Good. I will, later. A short manifesto on the wall, called
“Anonymous celebrity” and carefully phrased to add to the mystery. It
even referred to the statement put out by Banksy’s publicist only the day
before. For me, though, the great part was still all the other people: milling
about, very uncertain what they were actually doing, and peeking and poking at
the various odds and ends that usually litter condemned buildings, in case they
were actually part of the exhibition.

And in the
next room, there was more writing on the wall, this time most definitely in the
style of the street artist Klisterpeter.

And another
queue in the corner. Leading us past a wall adorned with what a surprisingly
large number of people have failed to identify as a quote from the Hitch-Hiker’s
Guide to the Galaxy, seeming to indicate that someone had got fed up with lying
in front of the bulldozer of commercialism, and into a much larger space. This
one was definitely devoted to Banksy, with re-creations and re-interpretations of
some of his more iconic works.


There were
even exhibits among the rafters, although I was hindered from exploring by
vertigo (and also by being fat enough to be completely unwieldy even on a
ladder, had I found one, but the people up there seemed to have been scaling
the walls). I saw people wearing chimp masks, and there were apparently more
Banksy works up there, real or fake.

And at the
end, a proclamation. The poor artist.

So, what
was all this about?

The
Internet, as is its wont, abounds with theories. They range from it being
somehow genuine, whatever that might mean in this context (If Banksy is
actually involved, making the stencils and posting them to Stockholm for the
exhibitors to use, does that make the flower thrower “genuine”? Does
“genuine” even have a meaning here? What if Banksy was only shown a YouTube
video of this, laughed and said “Go ahead, do it”?) up to this being
a very elaborate PR stunt by Gucci.

My own
official stance is this: I don’t know whether Banksy was really involved, or if
the question even can be said to have a meaning. But I do know that I was part
of a very ambitious and very well executed street art happening.

Then
there’s the unofficial part.

Artists
don’t normally use other artists’ names. Claiming to have done something in
cooperation with, say, Dan Brown or Steven Spielberg is utterly out of the
question unless they’ve actually been involved. So, the only reason someone
would have done this would probably be to criticize Banksy in some way.

Let’s
suppose it was done without Banksy’s involvement or approval. What do we have
then? Well, we have first a couple of Swedish street artists, then a
retrospective of Banksy’s career, and then the statement that Banksy has been
crushed by commercialism. In effect, a very elaborate way of stating
“Banksy is a sell-out”.

That’s a
huge effort to go to in order to say something that’s been said by lots of
other people. (Very unfair, in my view; the only thing the bloke has done is to take whatever money is thrown at him, in the end enabling him to be a full time artist, in effect freeing himself from commercial pressure.)

If Banksy
is involved, though, it gets a lot more interesting. Then the exhibit is about
his own perception of himself, and how he’s being crushed under some commercial
media hype. Then it’s not just a repetition of what someone else said. It
becomes an artistic expression. It becomes, for want of a suitable word, art.

And there’s
a final clue. As of the moment I’m writing this, Banksy’s Web page only says “Banksy
has not made any t-shirts for a water charity”. This is because someone
claimed he had done so, and the claimer apparently made a decent amount of
money selling said tees. Most artists are very sensitive about having their
name used by someone else, especially if there’s money involved.

Yet, we
have the curious incident of the street artist on his Web page.

Not proof,
of course. And he’s probably not falling over himself to deny some allegation
made in a two-horse town at the edge of the inhabited world, so maybe he’ll get
around to it next week, who knows. Still, it makes me wonder.

Of course,
there’s one way we could get to know, without being told explicitly.

If a mural
were to appear in London tomorrow, showing Banksy being crushed under a giant
Gucci bag.