At a time of post-9/11 millenarianism, of the continued engagement in Iraq, and when the spectacle is at war with itself, the relative lack of cultural politics in the UK is perhaps surprising. Onto that scene has crept a latter-day Situationist armed with a spray-can, a sharp eye and an ironic sense of humour. Bansky has fostered a reputation to rival Debord's enigmatic mystique, appearing and disappearing to disrupt, subvert and amuse. It is unclear whether Banksy is a single person, a collective or a 'tagging' current inspired by multiple participants.
Banksy's interventions have involved him disguising himself as a pensioner, shuffling into the Tate Modern and sticking one of his own pieces onto the wall to cut out the middle-man of the arts industry.
He has placed a rat, armed with spray-can and microphone, in a glass case in the Natural History Museum.
He produces graffiti artwork of monkeys with weapons of mass destruction; smiley-faced police officers; girls hugging cruise missiles.
He has given us live graffiti cows stencilled with the Banksy logo; pigs in checked police officers' uniforms; and sheep, some stencilled with convicts' arrows and others with multiple Andy Warhol faces. His helicopter gunship with a small pink bow on its head, swooping over take-away shops, or his legion of rat stencils in various parts of London streets excite more, as artistic experiences, than the antiseptic, big-money and alienated experiences of London's new art establishment.
At traditional landmarks, his graffiti often declares 'This is not a photo opportunity'. On establishment buildings, he may inform us that 'By Order National Highways Agency This Wall is a Designated Graffiti Area', or embellish unused areas of urine-soaked pavement with 'Official Picnic Site' notices.
Banksy's output of printed matter has consisted of two small art books, Existencilism and Banging Your Head Against A Brick Wall, and his latest is forthcoming. His cover design for Blur's album, Think Tank, might cement his reputation as a contemporary cultural contributor. Using the city as his canvas, Banksy has created artwork that inspires, criticises and beautifies. It brings humour, candour and colour to the dour physical and political landscape. Reminiscent of the Situationists' strategies of detournement, these tactics have been effectively employed in order to rework the urban fabric. Just as the Situationists created philosophising cowboys or dialectical fashion models, Banksy pokes fun at authority figures with graffiti-spraying, dope-smoking police officers, and police transit vans bearing images of large, pink pigs. His work follows a rich vein, from the Surrealists and Duchamp's ready-mades; the political graffiti of May '68; punk, and Jamie Reid's cutup image of the Queen; to The KLF'S burning of a million pounds on the island of Jura.
For Guy Debord, art needs to be connected to a political project. Debord says, in his Society of the Spectacle, that 'Dadaism sought to abolish art without realizing it and Surrealism sought to realize art without abolishing it'. …