How I Made Banksy’s East New York Piece Happen
The Power of Twitter
By now you’ve probably heard about Banksy’s month-long residency in New York City. The reclusive street artist has been putting up pieces in different locations throughout the city every day during the month of October, part of his Better Out Than In ‘residency.’
While I can’t claim to be a Banksy scholar, I do find his work to be as interesting as the next person might. I wouldn’t say I’m not a fan. He’s pretty awesome. What he does is awesome. The way he does it is awesome. This whole residency thing is awesome. Street art in general is pretty awesome.
I thought I’d just be a casual observer to his residency, but after the first few pieces went up, I started talking with an editor I occasionally work with about covering it. Maybe I’d follow the map of where the pieces were going up and talk to some people there, write a first hand account? Sounded good to me.
So I started digging into the Banksy Instagram account and really paying attention to what was going on via social media. Then I read the Village Voice’s cover story on Banksy. The very last paragraph was telling.
“New York calls to graffiti writers like a dirty old lighthouse. We all want to prove ourselves here,” Banksy writes. “I chose it for the high foot traffic and the amount of hiding places. Maybe I should be somewhere more relevant, like Beijing or Moscow, but the pizza isn’t as good.”
I thought: “Wow. So New York isn’t even relevant anymore. That stings.” Especially when I’d just written about how New York is still pretty awesome.
But looking at where the Banksy pieces were going up, I could see why he’d think this. The Lower East Side. Bushwick. Greenpoint. Williamsburg. Chelsea. I mean, come on. Neighborhoods like that are just a narrow slice of what New York really is.
So I took to my Twitter account on Wednesday and fired off a one line rumination, half-joking and half-serious.
Low and behold, the very next day, a Banksy piece did in fact pop up in East New York. Am I saying that I’m the sole reason for that happening? No. Clearly, other people have thought about this novel concept.
But a Twitter search for ‘Banksy East New York’ will reveal that my tweet is the sole tweet that came the day before the piece went up. And if you think these pieces are planned way in advance, they’re apparently not. Banksy admitted that in the Voice piece.
I’m figuring a lot of this out as I go along. Which is one way to keep it fresh, I suppose.
Ultimately, New York is not completely this sprawling utopia that Michael Bloomberg and real estate marketers purport it to be. And a lot of people here— particularly the type of people who are into Banksy and shit like that (ed note: definitely not excluding myself from this either)— live in walled-off gardens of their own delight, turning their blind eyes to the living conditions of people just a few blocks away from them. It’s a city of extreme wealth but also crushing poverty.
If you’re a street artist (or any kind of artist, really), and your goal is to disrupt things or get people to think about things in new and interesting ways, putting art in ‘safe’ places, in front of upwardly-mobile people who are inundated by media and messages all day long may be a wasted effort.
That’s debatable. But noticeably, the scrum around the residency has been more about spotting each Banksy piece— “Ooh look at my Instagram photo. Banksy! I’m a cool person who’s into street art”— as opposed to what each piece might actually mean. To be following the Banksy trail has become a fashion statement. A commentary on the type of person you are.
Apparently, East New York residents didn’t take kindly to their neighborhood becoming a walking tour for people to look at some ‘art.’ Especially when there’s regular graffiti elsewhere in the neighborhood, and a day prior nobody was coming through there trying to take a photo of that. And so they’re charging people to look at the Banksy.
While I’m on the fence about whether that’s right or wrong— morality is something of a moot point in certain instances— I do think the East New York piece was a great idea. It obviously sparked a very real discussion and allowed people in these walled-off gardens to observe what’s really going on out there in this city.
And so now maybe Banksy can now see that New York is still pretty relevant. There’s still struggle here, people who are voiceless and who aren’t being spoken for (and in many cases don’t want to be spoken for, but that’s a different subject).
Isn’t that what great art is supposed to be about?