One of my most highly prized possessions is something I don't, strictly speaking, possess. It exists only in digital form. It's an email I got ten years ago, and it's actually only one word long, plus the signature.
The word is "thanks".
The signature is "Banksy".
So, with a long-standing interest in that very elusive person and his art, it's no wonder that this Sunday, I ignored my beeping hoax sensors and made the pilgrimage to Hudiksvallsgatan in Stockholm, where it had been rumoured that Banksy was to show up for some sort of manifestation.
I wasn't alone. See below. Picture taken 15 minutes after the designated starting time, and more people showed up during the next 15 minutes; my estimate is somewhere upwards of 2,000 people. Since I was there on my own (as opposed to alone), I could chat with some people and overhear quite a few conversations. Most believed it was a hoax, and most believed nothing much would happen, except for perhaps a video later appearing on YouTube of the police trying to disperse us and the caption "look what you can make hype-susceptible people do by using a famous pseudonym".
Then a whistle was blown on our left. A lone jogger in sunglasses threaded his way through the crowd, followed by a woman who said she wasn't about to miss anything. People were completely bewildered until the jogger reached the end of the street, turned around, and waved at us to follow while whistling a couple more times. (He was obviously more used to, say, rave crowds.)
The crowd—now pleasantly surprised since something or other was obviously about to happen, or maybe was already in the process of happening if the excitement was going to be limited to a short stroll—followed, rather like lemmings don't do in real life (only when massacred wholesale by Disney in order to get a better story). We were led to a condemned building a few blocks away, and after standing in line for an interminable time (during which many people prepared themselves by pulling out their phones and watching the exhibition inside on Instagram), we were led into a room where the writing on the wall proclaimed "This must be the place", in a manner very reminiscent of the street artist Akay.
And, well, it was. First exhibit was a pair of legs (seemingly alive) hanging from the ceiling. Death of the artist, no less, so I'm explicitly free to add my own interpretation. Good. I will, later. A short manifesto on the wall, called "Anonymous celebrity" and carefully phrased to add to the mystery. It even referred to the statement put out by Banksy's publicist only the day before. For me, though, the great part was still all the other people: milling about, very uncertain what they were actually doing, and peeking and poking at the various odds and ends that usually litter condemned buildings, in case they were actually part of the exhibition.
And in the next room, there was more writing on the wall, this time most definitely in the style of the street artist Klisterpeter.
And another queue in the corner. Leading us past a wall adorned with what a surprisingly large number of people have failed to identify as a quote from the Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, seeming to indicate that someone had got fed up with lying in front of the bulldozer of commercialism, and into a much larger space. This one was definitely devoted to Banksy, with re-creations and re-interpretations of some of his more iconic works.
There were even exhibits among the rafters, although I was hindered from exploring by vertigo (and also by being fat enough to be completely unwieldy even on a ladder, had I found one, but the people up there seemed to have been scaling the walls). I saw people wearing chimp masks, and there were apparently more Banksy works up there, real or fake.
And at the end, a proclamation. The poor artist.
So, what was all this about?
The Internet, as is its wont, abounds with theories. They range from it being somehow genuine, whatever that might mean in this context (If Banksy is actually involved, making the stencils and posting them to Stockholm for the exhibitors to use, does that make the flower thrower "genuine"? Does "genuine" even have a meaning here? What if Banksy was only shown a YouTube video of this, laughed and said "Go ahead, do it"?) up to this being a very elaborate PR stunt by Gucci.
My own official stance is this: I don't know whether Banksy was really involved, or if the question even can be said to have a meaning. But I do know that I was part of a very ambitious and very well executed street art happening.
Then there's the unofficial part.
Artists don't normally use other artists' names. Claiming to have done something in cooperation with, say, Dan Brown or Steven Spielberg is utterly out of the question unless they've actually been involved. So, the only reason someone would have done this would probably be to criticize Banksy in some way.
Let's suppose it was done without Banksy's involvement or approval. What do we have then? Well, we have first a couple of Swedish street artists, then a retrospective of Banksy's career, and then the statement that Banksy has been crushed by commercialism. In effect, a very elaborate way of stating "Banksy is a sell-out".
That's a huge effort to go to in order to say something that's been said by lots of other people. (Very unfair, in my view; the only thing the bloke has done is to take whatever money is thrown at him, in the end enabling him to be a full time artist, in effect freeing himself from commercial pressure.)
If Banksy is involved, though, it gets a lot more interesting. Then the exhibit is about his own perception of himself, and how he's being crushed under some commercial media hype. Then it's not just a repetition of what someone else said. It becomes an artistic expression. It becomes, for want of a suitable word, art.
And there's a final clue. As of the moment I'm writing this, Banksy's Web page only says "Banksy has not made any t-shirts for a water charity". This is because someone claimed he had done so, and the claimer apparently made a decent amount of money selling said tees. Most artists are very sensitive about having their name used by someone else, especially if there's money involved.
Not proof, of course. And he's probably not falling over himself to deny some allegation made in a two-horse town at the edge of the inhabited world, so maybe he'll get around to it next week, who knows. Still, it makes me wonder.
Of course, there's one way we could get to know, without being told explicitly.
If a mural
were to appear in London tomorrow, showing Banksy being crushed under a giant