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This, [allegedly] from brilliant UK street artist Banksy, made me think.

The sentiment (“any advert in a public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It’s yours to take, rearrange and reuse.” … “They have rearranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don’t even start asking for theirs.“) … is, in conflict with the Law, including the electoral act, I guess.

Remember the campaigns of “defacing” electoral hoardings that were such a part of the 2011 election? The highest profile was a sticker campaign targeting National billboards: plastering “The Rich Deserve More”, “Drill it, Mine it, Sell it” slogans on the hoardings with stickers designed to look like part of the campaign.

There were also instances of stickers on hoardings that altered a Labour candidate’s slogans to “Working Hard for Cock” Or “Working Hard for Men” on Labour hoardings.

But the point Banksy makes — that advertising billboards and placards interrupt our world without our permission; therefore, why shouldn’t we have the right to ‘use’ or ‘rearrange’ them to make statements of our own — is worth considering.

Believe me, I’m sympathetic to the argument ‘Our volunteers put a lot of effort into erecting those political billboards and producing them cost a lot of money’. (For many years I had an illuminated sign outside my business premises which was routinely vandalised — never in a clever or remotely artistic way.) Cheap vandalism like smashing poltical advertising hoardings, spray bombing them, setting fire to them or daubing/scratching swastikas or nasty slogans into them is crap.

But aside from such vandalism, what’s to stop a citizen appropriating someone’s signage (including mine or some other advertiser’s) to make their own political or artistic statement?

I remember John Banks supporter Cameron Slater frothing at the mouth about an underground (i.e. not ‘authorised’ by a political party) and short-lived plastering of green post-it notes on a John Banks hoarding. The partisan blogger emoted tribal outrage at the horror of lawlessness (having previously hooted about a Labour candidate’s ‘cock’ slogan as ‘funny campaign graffiti’) and nonsensically attempted to smear the Green Party … without any apparent foundation, which I criticized at the time.

Given the artist Banksy’s manifesto on appropriating advertising messages in ‘public space’ outlined above, I’m starting to see a different aspect of this.

The ACT Party’s ‘Vote for John Banks’ hoarding was in a public space (albeit on a presumably hired trailer parked in presumably rented space at the edge of a presumably privately-owned used car yard in Market Road).

Was it a fair ‘target’ for a minor and very temporary ‘defacement’ by a citizen who wanted to use it as a platform for their election season advocacy and statements? Whoever they were, it would be a stretch to describe their short-lived, low-impact (see photo) gesture as vandalism, in my view.

What about the more orchestrated ‘The Rich Deserve More’ stickers? Same principle, but the scale of the campaign, the permanence of the defacement, the damage to the National hoardings when the stickers were removed make me see it somewhat differently. Banksy may see no difference.

How do you see it?

– P

Updated with pix and quote.

People are taking the piss out of you everyday (sic). They butt into your life, take a cheap shot at you and then disappear. They leer at you from tall buildings and make you feel small. They make flippant comments from buses that imply you’re not sexy enough and that all the fun is happening somewhere else. They are on TV making your girlfriend feel inadequate. They have access to the most sophisticated technology the world has ever seen and they bully you with it. They are The Advertisers and they are laughing at you.

You, however, are forbidden to touch them. Trademarks, intellectual property rights and copyright law mean advertisers can say what they like wherever they like with total impunity.

Fuck that. Any advert in a public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It’s yours to take, re-arrange and re-use. You can do whatever you like with it. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head.

You owe the companies nothing. Less than nothing, you especially don’t owe them any courtesy. They owe you. They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don’t even start asking for theirs.

– Banksy