Pablo Allard Column: The Banksy Paradox

By Paul Allarddean of the Faculty of Architecture, U. del Desarrollo

Over the weekend we visited with my family the spectacular Banksy exhibition at the GAM cultural center. As expected of this anonymous character and one of the most influential urban artists in the world, the exhibition takes a tour of reproductions of his main works and urban interventions. Covering from graffiti, stencils, installations and even a theme park, all loaded with sarcasm, humor, political criticism, reminding us that for Banksy the city and public space are the canvas where his ephemeral, clandestine and rebellious art provokes virtuous conflicts as well as random gifts to the urban experience.

The growing interest in Banksy and urban art evidences the epistemological change that is taking place in the world of contemporary art, which drives the perception of the public as a field that is today redefined and challenged by the exacerbated privatization -or violent occupation- of space which, at the same time, is perceived with a new attitude: the active citizen appropriation of that space. Appropriation that is observed in the mass mobilizations and marches, the highlighting of residual spaces by skaters, K-Pop followers and other urban tribes, as well as actions of tactical urbanism, such as “urban raids” or “pocket squares”.

In this exercise, the viewer’s attention quickly leaves the comfort zone of galleries and museums to confront the complex contextual web of effects, events and actions that invade the built environment.

It is here that Banksy’s paradox occurs -and perhaps the reason why the artist has not validated this exhibition: the exhibition is isolated from its immediate urban context by means of a comfortable tent, which, ironically, is located in the heart of the neighborhood Lastarria, one of the most vandalized and violated sectors during the social outbreak and the pandemic. The problem is that when we leave a graffiti exhibition, we find ourselves in a scratched, graffitied, “tagged” and dirty neighborhood; in which merchants and neighbors live terrified by looting, fires, vandalism and lack of control by anti-systemic groups that, foolishly, every Friday see violence as a purpose of life.

Although the crucial fractures that the explosion intensified have also made visible local artists such as Delight Lab, Las Tesis or Caiozzama, for whom the city presents opportunities to intervene and generate the necessary denunciation, pause and promote contemplation, their art today is lost in the forest of scratches, rudeness or garbage predominant in the center of Santiago. Unlike Banksy, instead of altering the established order, his actions are lost or added to the visual, social and symbolic chaos of a city that has been abandoned to its fate, where the value of heritage and the collective has been lost.

If urban art has managed to penetrate, flood and fill with meaning many places in what we now call the public sphere, this sphere today presents fissures where art and creativity must find a place and a meaning, starting with the recovery of that environment that you want to value -or eventually challenge-, so as not to end up in irrelevance, or paradoxically locked in a tent.