Dismalland to Dismal aid: Banksy’s engagement with the Calais refugee camp in Fall, 2015.

rev., February 17, 2016.

Disclaimer: This entry includes graphs working out the disposition of art and agency in various fields. These are improv swipe sketches made on Windows Journal scenically (not codified) presented for “entertainment purposes only.” A=agent; V=viewer; C (on left)= prototype/cult; arrow =agency activated; I I I triple vertical line below= breakdown of A into surface, fictive space, support, fronted toward A in relation; ()= in relation; [] = fixation/exploitation: looping downward arrow=reagency (do-over); A with feet right=counteragency (turn away from); A with feet left=reverse agency (reverse engineer to life; ostension); letters in dotted line=depleted agency (rational, incidental); A or any letter upside down= negated agency; A upside down with box around it=kill; C-I-AP-V in diamond .relations equals agentic array (cult, intercession, apotropaic, votive); solid horizontal line= fraction relation between two agents. All other lines and labels are scenic improv of the moment (i.e. “what I came up with”), not yet codified.

In a previous note, I put to the test Kanye West’s Yeezy 3 presentation of fashion at MSG in February, 2016, to see if its vibe, picked up by one reporter, of relating to a refugee camp had merit. I found that it did, but then it didn’t. That is, what began to look like an authentic creation of counteragentic art with some degree of agency, ended up curdling into a conceit by an exploitative cult inside princess culture royalty, so it did not ultimately survive its setting and context in the culture at large. But, I also mentioned in that treatment that the refugee camp look of the stages which Vanessa Beecroft made for West seemed to relate materially, formally, in terms of color, and in its makeshiftness look, to the Calais camp in France, a major cynosure of artistic concern in Europe, and reporting in Britain, but which receives very little notice in the US. In this context, the relation set up between West and the Calais camp would play tag with another relation set up with the camp by another artist, Banksy, last Fall.

A bit of background. I am not convinced that Banksy actually exists in the art world, formally. In the working out of the world of culture, and all of its fields, it seems that there is state space and street space (Deleuze and Guattari), and he is in street space. Art can take place in street space, but most of the time the art world per se is part of the superstructure of sacred state space in modern Western civilization

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Art, that is, is a field, and then a world, in the systems theory of state space, the space of power

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By contrast street space is where everyone without power lives, and even people with power have to pass through getting from place to place of their power

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In street space art is made, but it is made not to partake of power in the power world, but to petition power by those who do not have it, it lives turned away from power, aware that it has no power, and then has to turn to and move toward power with art. In this turn-away, a counter-stance is taken up against the power space of the world, and in that fixation the power structure of society as a whole is summarily objectified as a wall, and as the building and architecture of a city. And so it is on the walls of power that graffiti is the expression of the voice of those who make street art. Banksy started in this world, and still more or less lives in this world. He has not made much inroad into the actual art world, but lives in an adjunct space relative to the art world. In fact, the confusion about his posture in the art world has been generated by a new mesh that seems in the past 15 years to have overrun the former distinction between state and street space, rooted in the bricks and mortar nature of the world, spreading out a grid of immediate address by electronic means anywhere in any space. The grid or lattice of flatearth internet space, virtual space, whatever, facespace, clickspace, whatever you want to call it, has overcast in an inversion of private self will onto and over the former distinction between public and private space, and state and street space, to provide access to power, and expose power to vulnerabilities, previously guarded against by the gatekeepers of the bricks and mortar universe. Since I grew up in the bricks and mortar world, I am comfortable with those old barriers, even though I acknowledge that I failed to get through most doors and break through most barriers and basically failed to climb up to the top of any professional field. The downside of facespace is that it gives every person a sense of mini entitlement in which they are as it were broadcasting their own private radio show or tv talk show to the world and as such are on duty as they blog through the world not living their lives but reporting on the living of it for others, usually to buoy up their own sense of self-worth. It is the ease which this can be done, and the ease which which this consciousness bounds over the borders formerly erected between state and street space that a plethora of what might be called lone wolf facespace conceptualist artists have sought to make lonely statements in public space, but in a way that is entirely misguided in actual public space, and with poor reasoning, because they do not understand that outside of the fishbowl of their internet overcast, the barriers between state and street space still exist. Of these facespace art works, I have collected several already this year, most of them badly misguided, but it’s a trend, another example of oopspowerment, anyone can be a critic, anyone can be an artist (especially if they are willing to take their clothes off, cause we know that makes it art).

Banksy does not make art on the grid of the internet facespace as it spreads out over the world. He makes art in street space, though his street graffiti has raised art world interest because it is reported on online as art and taken as art or as an example of face space street-based art and thus misread as that. But Banksy’s graffiti, however much it involves the viewer, and in many complicated ways (discussed in my treatment of the October, 2014 month-long street based show in NYC),remains in street space.

But for Dismalland, he took a different tactic. He gazed from street space upon the citadel of power, embodied in stone, and saw that one of the silliest aspects of the fishbowl of power was its intramural proliferation of mirroring forms, and so decided to parody in graffiti and then 3D object oriented versions of his graffiti, Disneyworld, in his Dismalland. A review on that at another time, I did not think much of it on FB. But, then, he involved Dismalland in its dismantling by donating all the materials used to build Dismalland to the Calais camp, and even apparently hire some workers to build some shelters using the raw material left over from the camp. So, he gazed on power, saw Disneyworld, turned away from it, to critique it, then made us of an abandoned amusement park in the south of Britain, to make a counter-disneyworld, Dismalworld, a kind of apocalyptic version saturated with the darkness of street space shut out by thick walls from power. Then, in that counterspace, he heard of another counterspace requiring help, and passed along the materials from his counterspace to the other counterspace.

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The problem as I saw it, mentioning how weird it might be to a refugee to end up living as a refugee in wood partly redressed with thematic elements from the Dismalland display, or also the British TV show Jekyll and Hyde, resulting in a kind of Peter Blume surrealism, which would be disorienting, was because Banksy, seeing the world through the everythingiscloserthanitseems grid of the internet face space, thought the two counterspaces were related, when graduated, Disneyland is an intramural power space counterspace for the purposes of fantasy and entertainment, inside power, while a refugee camp is a deadly serious life and death place resulting from a clash of power governments in power fighting to the death, destroying the state space people formerly lived in, and flushing them out into nomad space, the worldwide dimension of street space (according to my reading in the early 90s of D&L). In other words, he engaged in conceit.

One photoshop memeing of it in the reporting caught the whimsical and in many ways demented nature of the idea, let them eat fake, a Marie Antoinette gesture by a power-person oblivious to the realiy of refugee suffering

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Weirdly enough, this was taken by a few people as possibly real, no, Banksy just donated the boards and the materials, not the thematic set ups, though it is a bit odd that as the camp dug in aids workers did begin to build structure somewhat more substantial than tents, making of the place a real counterspace

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Banksy’s interest in and involvement in the camps then went viral when he undertook a Banksy graffiti in or just outside the camps, and this was all over the internet. It was a pro refugee platitude of the sort you always hear, how can you be against Syrian refugees, Steve Jobs was a Syrian immigrant, and look what he did, a point that doesn’t exactly address the bottom of the problem, does it?  but it went off well in that never never land of platitudes, the internet

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Showing Steve Jobs, and one guesses few in the camp knew who he was, with a bindlestiff of his clothing, and lugging a tv or electronics of some sort, shows him as one of the refugees, on site. That is, while it made a platitude point online, on site it seemed to work as a sign of solidarity from someone (Bansky) in the wider world, if he could come in and do one of his secret graffitos.

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That is, Dismalland as counterreality parody dismantled was spat out as raw materials, boards, to by reverse engineering start the camp to look more like a place to live in, other aid poured in, it was part of that; then also as part of that Banksy lent his name of power to execute an actual graffito at the camp which spoke for the whole superstructure of power or some of those liberal persons in power as a statement of acknowledgement of the reality of immigration, support for refugee aid, and this in turn in the camp must have made the refugees who saw it interpret its agency as an offering, a votive, to make a contract of solidarity between power and them, and give them hope.

This can also be seen by the agency expressed by the ways the graffiti, seen now as a space that will get internet facespace coverage, other treatment. Soon, as happens with a graffito, other taggers come in over the top, and put their meaning on it. This is how it was, reported just as a Banksy

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But then other taggers come in “over the top” and deliver a more desperate message, not of solidary from power to the camp, but from the camp itself, and of course it ain’t clever, it ain’t pretty, it’s a cry for help, nothing arty

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And so the Banksy begins to look a bit jejune, a bit out of cinque with the reality of a cry for help

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But then I detect something else was going on. People began to understand what it was, a power spot touched down in their camp, a platform by which they might communicate, but, on an even more basic level, a place of safety, where they might get close to it and camp by it to feel safe and connected, and not give up hope, living in votive hope in proximity to it

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So the once empty space around the site became camped in, for good luck, to be near power and hope

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little offerings were left at the good luck feet of Steve Jobs, to pray for release and good end to their journeys

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One fellow pulled up right close, all but parking on the Steve Jobs, a true devotee, possibly staring at it from his tent at night, seeing it first thing in the morning, feeling a bit cozy, kept company by this momentary god, representation of the support of the world for their plight (of course, a corny photojournalist sees only an “ironic” visual rhyme)

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And then other photos showed that this site was in fact at the edge of the camp, or maybe even outside the camp, and was taken up by the spread of the camp, and in this the type of picture shown here is not a camp picture, but a “moving on” picture, showing the “irony” of the tents lined up against the transportation infrastructure of the modern Western world

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Of which there are many

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It then occurred to me that I better look where the Steve Jobs was situated vis a vis the pathway of refugee movement relative to the camp, and I found this picture which shows that it is not only at the edge of the camp, but headed into an underpass, under a highway, and out of the camp, into the moving-on space

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Which means that it is not only a cult space inside the camp, to give those dwelling there a sense of solidarity, or that the world is listening, but it also exists on the pathway to freedom, as a threshold figure en route to Britain, which is where those in Calais want to go, to the tunnel linking France with Britain, and as such its agency shifts to a raw intercessionary psychopomp figure to magically lead them on with confidence and good luck in their journey. Some of these tags look a lot like the hobo signs that used to mark houses in old time America, travelling men communicating secretly to each other, though this would appear to be just a graffiti about their goal, and their path, it does appear to have some special information

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And then, it happened, someone caught on that the purpose of the graffito had changed, being seen much more often by those pushing off to try out a dangerous truck hitch through the tunnel to England, and so another graffiti artist came in “over the top” again to change Steve Jobs into a symbol of those who made the attempt, encouraged with a shout out of hope and joy, based on London’s anthem in modern times by the Clash

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And here is the pic

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and then Banksy had another thought, well, if it has now moved into another area (I do not know what the face put next to Jobs is, maybe a traveler heading out), he said to himself, well then, I have to leave bread crumbs all along the line from there to here, so a graffito popped up on the beach at Calais, looking to England, orienting the refugees toward England (by no means an easy thing)

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and then he complemented his Calais Steve Jobs with the little French girl from Les Miserables representing the refugees in France, being teargassed, on a wall opposite the French embassy in London (it was quickly boarded over, however)

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Creating a path by way of graffiti from there to here, from Calais to London, a wonderful example of an artist responding to the moving situation on the ground and filling in the blanks.

But then there was still another movement the other direction. The wood from Dismalland began arrive at the camp, and be used. The articles reporting on it are odd, talking about a secret group moving in and building sheds, and then disappearing, no explanation

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And then, to announce the arrival of the boards, and the aid, to build up in the camp a sense of solidarity with a counterspace art work from the world of power in England, the sign from Dismalland was repurposed with edition to signify the camp, Dismal aid

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This was perhaps encouraged by efforts in the camp to make things more homelike, in a makeshift way, as there were stores, doctors offices, other places building up

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But in this Banksy made his one misstep. Possibly because the sign over the camp idea echoed vaguely in the cultural memory of Europe against other signs over the entrances to other camps

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This one was taken badly by the residents of the camp as an act of exploitation, and very quickly removed. They did not, it turned out, want to live in the never never land compressed fantasy counterspace of Dismalland parody of Disneyworld transferred to the camps. Its likely that the devolution of the Steve Jobs graffito from a landing come from facespace, to come to serve first as a cult and then a votive space role in the life of the camp, made the original dimensions of the interface of the donation of the materials, the power world to the camp world, seem stiff and exploitational, it was rejected. But that did not stop those who tore it down from keeping letters for themselves, and try to sell them on the internet, as some of the letters from that sign, with, admittedly, such a fascinating tour in recent cultural spins, have shown up for sale on line, though I am sure some fantasists in camp, who have always wanted to come from Syria to fantasy Europe, kept a few letters for themselves in the camp, as talismans of hope that someday they will end up in the same place the letters once stood, in England.

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Thus, Bansky remains an interesting art-type person, a graffiti artist, his work does not take place in the art world, but that is its interest, and certainly his few little spins of interest in the refugee situation at the Calais camp in the last part of 2015 turned out to be of great interest for anyone seeking out the new magic of  art today.