Friday 29 October 2010

One Man’s Rubbish is Another’s Treasure

Hackney Council in East London are seeking to paint over a piece of street art (to be precise a 3.5m (12ft) rabbit on the side of a recording studio) by internationally renowned artist ROA. The owners of the building had originally granted ROA permission to create the piece, but they have been served with a removal notice by Hackney Council, warning that unless they "remove or obliterate the graffiti" within 14 days, a council contractor will paint over the wall and charge them for the service.

Hackney Council seemed to have deemed the work a ‘blight’ on the local environment; news to local residents and the building owner who have a lot of positive things to say about the work. By locals it has been hailed as something which adds to the local area.

This is not an unfamiliar story. In 2007 a Banksy piece showing a monkey preparing to blow up a bunch of bananas at Waterloo station in London was painted over by staff. In October 2008 Westminster city council removed a mural from Newman Street in central London after the deputy council leader, Robert Davis, said keeping it would be "condoning" graffiti. Last year Hackney was criticised after it painted over a Banksy cartoon of the royal family that had been present on a block of flats for over eight years.

So who is ROA?

ROA is a secretive Belgian street artist who has risen to prominence over the last two years after. He began by painting animal forms in a disused warehouse close to his native Ghent, Belgium. His work can now be seen in across the USA, Europe and as far away as Brazil. His first solo show in the UK was staged in 2010 at the Pure Evil gallery in Shoreditch, which specialises in Street Art.

Does Anybody Think it Should Stay?

Mark Rigney, who runs a walking tour featuring ROA's work, said: "Hackney council should realise that this art movement is a huge tourist attraction and people are crossing London and the globe to see the art upon the streets of Hackney, Islington and Tower Hamlets – areas which are often referred to as the epicentre for London street art."

Charley Edwards, who runs the Pure Evil gallery, said that the ROA show “was the most successful show we've ever had in terms of people coming. You could hear the gasps as people walked in and saw his pieces.”

Julia Craik, managing director of Premises music studios and cafe says "If it was some horrible graffiti then they'd have a point, but it's a thing of beauty in Hackney Road, which is not the greatest area in the world. Among the bingo halls and shops you've got a really nice artwork, which really adds something."

An interesting comment, which begs the question: should the local authority be nominated as overseer as to what constitutes ‘good street art’ versus ‘bad graffiti’? A question that Hackney Council seems to tackle head on Hackney: "The graffiti ... is clearly visible from the road and, whilst it is not the council's position to make a judgment call on whether graffiti is art or not, our task is to keep Hackney's streets clean.

"As part of our enforcement policy, which is informed by Defra guidance, we initially contacted the property owner on an informal basis and offered advice, including what they needed to do if they wished to retain the piece of graffiti. This was followed by a letter and another visit to the property before the removal notice was served. However, we are currently holding our enforcement action to allow the owner a further opportunity to seek planning advice about retaining the piece."

Other councils have adopted novel solutions to deciding whether or not a piece of graffiti should remain. Sutton invited residents to vote on whether a Banksy should remain. More than 90% of respondents wanted it to stay, but the mural was defaced by taggers before the vote closed.

Do YOU Think it Should Stay?

Supporters of the work have started a petition to save it and at the last count there were 1617 signatories. If you think the Rabbit should stay click here to show your support.

The Bigger Picture

The destruction of street artworks such as graffiti, which by its very nature is likely to be on someone else’s property, begs an even bigger question: should the ROA as the artist have the right to object to derogatory treatment of his work in accordance with sections 80-83, of the Copyright Design and Patents Act 1998 in the same was as afforded to other artists? Are his Moral Right’s as an artist in fringed? Or does the Council’s right to obliterate such works fall squarely within the provision of section 81? Fellow Blogger Tomasz Rychlicki raises similar interesting points in his Legal questions about illegal art article if you have time to read more.

Craik said she had replied to Hackney Council in writing after receiving their letter this month, but was yet to receive a response. "It could happen at any moment," she said. "We're constantly thinking 'are we going to come in tomorrow to no rabbit, and a massive bill.'"

For More Images of ROA’s work click here.

Source: Guardian Online Monday 25 October 2010 23.12 BST

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