The Poetics of Resistance and Risk
When one is caught in a regime of dictatorial power, where zero is the ideology, much is sustained by the management of Poetics and Semiotics. This is why resistances like the works of Banksy and other graffiti artists are so effective. If you want to pull apart the dictatorial power of zero, it has to be done poetically and semiotically. Most revolutions are preceded by a revolution in art, music, pop culture, poetry, literature and semiotics, well before there is any change in politics.
In my book on Envisioning Risk (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/envisioning-risk-seeing-vision-and-meaning-in-risk/) I devote a large section of discussion to visionaries (https://safetyrisk.net/the-visionary-imagination-margaret-atwood/) like Banksy.
If you want to know what vision looks like, you won’t find it in organizational vision statements. Indeed, vision is quite uncomfortable for those locked into an ethic of duty and compliance. Duty and compliance are the dynamic that maintains more of the same, the regurgitation of empires and power (https://safetyrisk.net/silence-power-and-an-ethic-of-risk/ ).
The following is an excerpt from the book Envisioning Risk, Seeing, Vision and Meaning in Risk, about Banksy:
Banksy as Visionary
The best way to understand Banksy is semiotically. It is much better to just view Banksy’s works than to have some art critic thrust forth their expert research on who Banksy is. In many ways Banksy has to be experienced rather than studied. We will discuss semiotic vision more in the following chapter but for the moment we need to be aware that the image reaches out to our image-ination and says things to our unconscious that text simply cannot convey.
Banksy is of course a pseudonym. No one knows who Banksy is or why he is called ‘Banksy’. There is much mystique, mystery and significance about this anonymity. Perhaps it started because grafitti and Street Art is illegal or considered vandalism but the mystery of Banksy has grown way beyond that.
Banksy started just like many graffiti artists but quickly generated into stencilling. Stencilling is much quicker and this saves time leaving less chance to get caught. Many graffiti artists also wear masks, to protect from camera identity and to protect from the toxic fumes from the spray cans. Street Art emerges out of ‘underground’ sub-cultures and this is where Banksy developed his work. You can see some of his work here:
- https://www.canvasartrocks.com/blogs/posts/70529347-121-amazing-banksy-graffiti-artworks-with- locations
Work by Banksy is not like other Art, one can’t just say this is a Banksy and this is not. Banksy himself will either record/photograph him doing his work or validate it on Instagram where he has over 10 million followers. Banksy often works through intermediaries and trusted agents and if he does talk to media it may be via phone or sometimes in his movies he appears masked.
Banksy moved away from just graffiti, Street Art and stencilling to doing work on canvas in 2000. Bansky started doing formal exhibitions and developing documentaries in 2001 in cooperation with Bristol photographer Steve Lazarides. Until 2009 Steve Lazarides acted as Banksy’s agent.
By 2001, Banksy’s blocky spray-painted signature cropped up all over the United Kingdom, Vienna, San Francisco, Barcelona, Australia and Paris. (In May his Parachuting Rat, painted in Melbourne in the late 1990s, was accidentally destroyed by plumbers installing new pipes). His first exhibition was called ‘Turf War’ where he attracted the attention of the Art World. One of Banksy’s most significant protests is against the Art World itself and its pretentiousness, power and commercialism.
In 2004 he launched a show called ‘Barely Legal’ in Los Angeles where Keanu Reeves and Jude Law had shown up at a V.I.P. preview the evening before, as had Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, who bought several pieces. In 2006 Christina Aguilera bought an original of Queen Victoria as a Lesbian and two prints for £25,000. See Figure 125. Queen Victoria as a Lesbian. In 2007, Sotheby’s auction house in London auctioned three works, reaching the highest ever price for a Banksy work at auction: over £102,000 for Bombing Middle England. In the same year Banksy’s work set an auction record for his work Space Girl and Bird fetching £288,000 (US$576,000). Banksy had entered the mainstream, something he held in contempt.
Figure 125. Queen Victoria as a Lesbian
Artists and visionaries tend not to be concerned about who or what is offended in their discourse. Usually orthodoxy, compliance, conformity, safety and power are their target of communication and such will be naturally offended. For the visionary, it is about what they want to see changed or injustice committed than a lesser value of offence.
In 2005 Banksy made a trip to the Palestinian territories creating nine images on the Israeli West Bank wall, risky business indeed. One image of a sofa couch envisions a fake window with a paradise view, the opposite of what was the vision Banksy saw of ruin of Palestinian life. See Figure 126. Sofa Couch.
See Figure 126. Sofa Couch.
In December 2009, Banksy marked the end of the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference by painting four murals on global warming. One included the phrase, ‘I don’t believe in global warming;’ the words were submerged in water
In 2010 The world premiere of the film Exit Through the Gift Shop occurred at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. He created 10 street artworks around Park City and Salt Lake City to tie in with the screening.
In 2015, Banksy created several murals in the vicinity of Calais, France, including the so-called ‘Jungle’ where migrants live as they attempt to enter the United Kingdom. One of the pieces, The Son of a Migrant from Syria, depicts Steve Jobs as a migrant. Of course in this image Banksy juxtaposes the reality that Steve Jobs was a Syrian migrant and his image begs the questions: is a Steve Jobs in this group? Where would the world be if Jobs was dead in a camp? See Figure 127. Son of a Migrant from Syria.
Figure 127. Son of a Migrant from Syria.
As in this piece of Steve Jobs, Banksy often uses satire and juxtaposition to make his point. He often shows the bizarre hypocrisy of those in power or advocates on the behalf of the oppressed. It is in these images he gives Hope, demonstrates Justice, shows Faith in both his method and the cause he represents and desires Love rather than utility and money to guide human relations. The Justice-Hope-Faith-Love dialectic in action.
In October 2018, one of Banksy’s works Balloon Girl, was sold in an auction at Sotheby’s in London for £1.04m. However, shortly after the gavel dropped and it was sold, an alarm sounded inside of the picture frame and the canvas passed through
a shredder hidden within the frame, partially shredding the picture. The Banksy ‘shredding’ shocked the art world. In the first stunt of its kind, the shredding of Girl with a Red Balloon has become art world folklore.
Usually, if art work is damaged whilst in the care of an auction house, a buyer would not normally be expected to go through with the purchase. In this case the art work trebled in value in a day!!! ‘The urge to destroy is also a creative urge’ said Banksy, quoting Picasso in his recent video showing how he pulled off such a stunt. Risks surrounding the buying and selling of art often surround the transportation and storage of art work. See Figure 128. The Shredding.
See Figure 128. The Shredding.
You can see a documentary on the shredding here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-6jMi4e-0Q
On 13 February 2020, the Valentine’s Banksy mural appeared on the side of a building in Bristol’s Barton Hill neighbourhood, depicting a young girl firing a slingshot of real red flowers and leaves. See Figure 129. Girl With Slingshot.
Figure 129. Girl With Slingshot.
This is how the Banksy image works and like all semiotics/poetics says numerous things at once, particularly for those who are discerning, have a social conscience and who understand the Faith-Hope- Love-Justice dialectic.
There are other artists and visionaries in the same school as Banksy, the following are just a sample.
Psychedelic Street Art
Swoon – A visionary artist
Joe Dante: Visionary
If you want to understand what vision is, start with a study of Banksy.
Vision in Risk and Safety
In the world of zero, the global mantra for safety, the last thing that can be tolerated is vision. Zero tolerates no dissent, accommodates no debate and countenances no variation to zero. Zero is the image of the absolute, the ethic of duty.
This is why all the organisations that I work with that start their vision to humanize safety, get rid of zero. I could write case study after case study of organisations that get rid of the brutalism of zero and safety improves.
The next book It Works! A New Approach to Risk and Safety, documents such a change (https://safetyrisk.net/traditional-safety/ ). The book is due for release in a few weeks and will be on sale directly across Europe and in Australia.