Surveillance Saturates London Streets

This piece was unfortunately painted over by British police, but it marks one of Banksy’s most audacious stunts—a three-story high protest against Britain’s surveillance society just feet from a CCTV surveillance camera.

EYES ON THE STREET - Banksy's work protests the ubiquity of surveillance cameras present on streets and in public places in London.

The guerilla artwork appeared one day on a wall above a Post Office yard in central London. It features a boy in a red jacket painting the slogan “One Nation Under CCTV” in stark white capitals. His actions are filmed by a policeman next to a barking dog.

The secret work is made more impressive by its height, which would have required Banksy to erect temporary scaffolding—all of which went unnoticed by Post Office employees and the London police, despite being watched by a CCTV camera.

CCTV Security Pros is a leading supplier of security cameras and surveillance systems.

According to the London Evening Standard, London reportedly invested in more than 10,000 CCTV cameras in the late 1980’s in a publicly-funded 200 million euro crime-fighting push. The cameras are erected all over the city, but their effectiveness in stopping crime is widely debated. The Standard reported in 2007 that, “a comparison of the number of cameras in each London borough with the proportion of crimes solved there found that police are no more likely to catch offenders in areas with hundreds of cameras than in those with hardly any. In fact, four out of five of the boroughs with the most cameras have a record of solving crime that is below average.”

BBC News later reported in 2009 that, “Only one crime was solved by each 1,000 CCTV cameras in London last year, a report into the city’s surveillance network has claimed. The internal police report found the million-plus cameras in London rarely help catch criminals. In one month CCTV helped capture just eight out of 269 suspected robbers.” BBC further claimed that “there’s been little or no change in London’s crime rates since they [the cameras] were more widely installed in the mid 1980s.”

Despite numerous reports detailing unimpressive facts concerning the city’s security system, the number of surveillance cameras has continued to rise over the years, and British citizens are now being watched by an estimated 51,000 police-run CCTV cameras. (The same amount of public money could have funded 4,121 new police officers). However, when including the number of privately-owned cameras and cameras situated in other public places like train stations and bus depots, the estimate is closer to 1.85 million cameras throughout the city.

A FAMILIAR SIGHT to the London populace, this sign warns that CCTV cameras are overhead.

An article published by the Christian Science Monitor in February of this year says that, “Privacy activists are worried that Britain will become the bleak totalitarian society George Orwell painted in his classic novel “1984,” where citizens were spied on and personal freedom sacrificed for the benefit of an all-powerful state.”

The article continues, “The civil rights group Liberty estimates that the average Londoner is captured on camera around 300 times a day while BBW claims Britain has 20 percent of the world’s CCTV cameras and only 1 percent of the world’s population.”

Bomb It Follows Graffiti Around the World

From the graffiti capital of the country, New York City, to the streets of Berlin, where graffiti is called ‘spraying,’ from the slums of Capetown to the sewers of Sao Paulo, Bomb Itsplices together images of graffiti around the world to create a world mural of the art.

BOMB IT - Jon Reiss' documentary explores graffiti around the world in all of its different forms, specifically looking at its use as a political medium.

A documentary produced by Jon Reiss, Bomb It follows political graffiti everywhere it flourishes.

The film opens with a night scene of graffiti writers sneaking around a train yard in New York City, whose graffiti scene has surpassed Philadelphia’s, the former graffiti capital of the country. The man attributed with starting the movement in New York, Corn Bread, comments in voiceover that “art is a weapon,” a sentiment reiterated by one artist seen scribbling “voice of the people” on a New York subway map. In places like the Bronx, a labyrinth of run-down areas that at best resemble cities in the aftermath of World War II, graffiti murals are thought to brighten up an otherwise dismal environment.

The camera then turns its attention to a series of European cities, beginning with France, where the artist Blek “focuses on the misery and poverty of the poor in Paris.” A proponent of the school that believes “art must serve a political and social cause,” one of his most touching pieces is of a homeless man sitting on a street corner. Blek began his career drawing rats along the bottoms of the walls, symbolizing the misery and filth the poor endure.

A PICTURE OF POVERTY - French graffiti artist draws the poor and homeless.

RAT CITY - Blek began his artistic career drawing rats around the walls of France, symbolizing the filth of the cities.

In Amsterdam, a teacher by day turns graffiti writer by night. Her work always includes a pair of watchful eyes in an I-see-everything-you-do Big Brother fashion. In London, a soldier having returned from Iraq turned to the streets to express his frustration with the war. One of his political works displays picket-like signs exclaiming, “Stop the War,” “No War,” and “Fuck Party Politics” with the underlining question “Still think you’ve got a say?” Not strictly a political writer, he also did a lovely interpretation of the woman from Lord Byron’s poem, “She Walks In Beauty,” on a busy street corner.

WAR! WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR? - Having returned from fighting in the Middle East, one graffiti artist in London turned to the streets to express his frustration through art.

LITERARY GRAFFITI - Not purely political in his work, the same London artist draws an interpretation of the woman in the famous Lord Byron poem.

Back in the U.S., the talk turns to the fads of train and subway graffiti. Described as “museums on wheels,” trains and subways are top-notch spots for graffiti writers because their work is ensured a high degree of visibility. One New York artist sticks to the subway tunnels, writing angry (and less than artistic) messages on the walls: “NYC is my toilet bowl,” “The poor bail out the rich,” and “death feels like an old friend.” The same artist regularly writes “F You” on NYC police cars.

SLIGHTLY LESS ARTISTIC - One New York graffiti writer confines his work to messages and words lacking color or design.

In Berlin, where graffiti writing is called “spraying,” an artist says he was inspired to take up the art because “the current social situation is fucked up.” His reason is seconded by a Tokyo artist who says that although Japan is a well-controlled country, there is still resistance to the government: “If there was no rebellion, we’d be stagnant.” Such resistance is often reflected in graffiti messages and murals.

A man in Barcelona ensures his resistance to the government will be permanently felt by chiseling his work into walls so that it cannot be painted over. In Cape Town, graffiti was a powerful tool during the apartheid regime.

PEACE - One example of graffiti calling for peace during the Apartheid regime in South Africa.

Artists who wanted to “help toward something” began what they called artistic guerilla warfare by spray painting political demands by the dozen: “Africa: Freedom in Our Lifetime,” “Free South Africa,” “Free Our Leaders,” “Free Mandela,” “Peace,” and “From Pieces to Peace.” One artist attests that his artistic efforts made him “more socially and politically aware.”

DEMANDS - An art piece along a highway advocates for Nelson Mandela's release from prison.

A CRY FOR HELP - Another Cape Town image demands freedom.

In Sao Paulo, another artist seeks to raise awareness about urban deterioration and poverty by painting in the most deteriorated places in the city—landfills and polluted tunnels underneath the city, home to many of the city’s homeless.

The documentary wraps up in Los Angeles by featuring Shepard Fairey’s Andre the Giant/OBEY campaign, an effort to remind the public not to exercise blind obedience to government.

 

OBEDIENCE AWARENESS - Shepard Fairey's OBEY campaign is intended to make the public less likely to practice blind obedience to government.

Freight Train Graffiti Gets Political

Riding the rails: this three-part series of freight-car graffiti murals sees a lot of landscape—and spreads a message everywhere it travels.

BAILOUT - The first in a series of three boxcars with graffiti, this one expresses anger over the economy with the all-caps "Bailout" and the words "consolidating power" to the side.

The all-caps pieces spell out “BAILOUT,” “IMPEACH,” and “POVERTY,” but are accompanied by some instances of smaller type reading: “Secret Prisons,” “Liars, Killas, Cronies,” and “Consolidating Power.” The cartoon character Scrooge McDuck appears at the end of the “POVERTY” mural with bags of money at his feet, at once adding contrast and irony to the mural itself.

POVERTY - The boxcar with the word "poverty" on it features an ironic Scrooge McDuck with bags of money at his feet.

According to the Minnesota Independent, a small newspaper having run an article on the graffiti, the murals were done in 2009 and express outrage over the state of the economy. They were drawn by the Abe Lincoln Brigade, a politically-motivated crew of graffiti writers who target trains as mediums on which to express their protest over various current events.

IMPEACH - The final boxcar reads "Impeach," perhaps a solution toward improving the nation's economy, as viewed by the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

In fact, die-hard graffiti artists consider freight cars the ultimate canvas, right next to high-flying billboards, overpasses, and the sides of bridges. Trains provide a moving, never-ending art exhibition of talent and effort that never gets old and is impossible to equate with more traditional graffiti avenues. Unlike stationary works on buildings and walls, train murals are not familiar—they’re new to someone different every day. Furthermore, so long as artists are careful not to paint over railroad identification numbers or the name of the rail line, their art is likely to be left on the boxcar. Graffiti is expensive to remove, and rail companies simply can’t afford to have a boxcar out of service for any period of time.

But the best part of writing graffiti on freight trains? What you create always comes back.

Back In 1984

George Orwell would be proud. There are still people yearning after 1984.

In his futuristic book, 1984, written in the 1940’s following World War II, Orwell predicted a world overrun by probing governments and intrusive surveillance technology by the year 1984. Twenty-eight years following the passing of his magic year, there are still those hopefuls waiting for his prophecy to come to fruition.

Like whoever painted this lovely piece: “Feliz 1984” accompanied by a pair of binoculars. Talk about irony. For anyone who has read 1984, it’s not a happy picture. For starters, the novel is categorized as a dystopian novel (not to be confused with utopian) about a society in a state of perpetual warfare in which the people undergo incessant public surveillance and unrelenting mind control. In this society heavily influenced by technology and overwhelming propaganda, individuality and reason are crushed in favor of unwavering obedience to government, industry, and country.

BACK IN THE GOOD OLE DAYS - This artist advocates for a society similar to the one in George Orwell's dystopian novel, 1984.

Big Brother, the cult personality of The Party regime in this otherworldly society, instills fear in citizens with the slogan “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU.” Hence the addition of binoculars to this piece of art. Perhaps the most depressing element of Orwell’s society, however, is the complete lack of citizen awareness. The government blatantly manipulates, and the people blindly follow—unknowingly entrenching themselves deeper into a web of brainwash. And those select few who do suspect foul play are either too frightened to act or suffer the consequences of speaking up.

In short, 1984 is anything but “feliz.” Nothing could be less happy, or farther from reality today.

The Truth About Freedom

This piece of political art, stamped on a metal surface (perhaps a post office drop-box) in Manchester, England, uses the famous phrase, “Man is born free, but is everywhere in chains” by Jean-Jacques Rousseau to make a statement.

CONTRADICTION - This stamped message uses a famous quote from French political philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau to send a message about the truth of freedom.

Rousseau, a French political ideologist of the 1700’s, originally coined the phrase while referring to governments at the time, which were organized under the divine-right theory. Under this structure, rulers were thought to have been appointed by God, and being so appointed, were given authority to do virtually anything. Rousseau was one of the first philosophers to openly disagree with this model.

With this rather cryptic phrase, Rousseau asserted that states at the time were in fact repressing the physical freedom that is the peoples’ birthright and were doing nothing to secure civil freedom for citizens. In other words, while man was free in theory, the number of social, political, and civil restrictions placed on him could not amount to true liberty.

The use of the phrase in modern society carries the exact same meaning: freedom isn’t really as free as it’s advertised.

Author of The Social Contract, Rousseau theorized about the most appropriate relationship between individuals and their government. Legitimate political authority, he suggests, can only be derived from a social contract agreed upon by all citizens for their mutual protection. Individuals assemble into a political society only after agreeing to abide by common rules and accept corresponding political duties to ensure a long-term effective government.

ON GOVERNMENT - Rousseau's highly influential book, The Social Contract, theorized about the best possible and most effective relationship between a government and its people.

Rousseau deems the collective group of citizens the “sovereign” and claims that it should be considered in many ways like an individual person. While each individual has a particular will that aims for his own best interest, the sovereign expresses the general will that aims for the common good. The sovereign only has authority over matters that are of public concern, but in this domain its authority is absolute.

Rousseau’s Social Contract outlined four basic premises:

1)     Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.

2)     The Sovereign, having no force other than the legislative power, acts only by means of the laws; and the laws being solely the authentic acts of the general will, the Sovereign cannot       act save when the people is assembled.

3)     Every law the people have not ratified in person is null and void — is, in fact, not a law.

4)     The legislative power belongs to the people, and can belong to it alone.

As is clearly evident from the premises, The Social Contract argued against the idea that monarchs were divinely empowered from God to rule and legislate. Rather, only the people, or the “sovereign,” are granted this all-powerful right. Rousseau’s ideas inspired political revolutions in Europe, particularly the French Revolution in France.

Furthermore, Rousseau’s social contract theory of government played an important historical role in developing the idea that political authority must derive from the consent of the governed, a principle regarded with the highest degree in American political ideology today.

STOP! In the Name of War…

It’s a sign.

This is clever art. Think of it. Think of the idea formulating in the back of the artist’s mind. Think of the him planning a perfectly-cast shadow. Think of him etching in the letters “W-A-R” in the same font and height as the word “STOP.” There’s just something intriguing about the process of creating this. And a note of jealousy too—like wishing you’d been the one to think of it.

STOP! IN THE NAME OF WAR - Using a shadow concept, this anonymous artist created a clever piece of political art with a strong message.

Some degree of respect deserves to be awarded to this graffiti artist. Rather than haphazardly scribbling “war” on the stop sign, an act which most assuredly would be considered common vandalism, he created a piece of art.

In effect, more than a sign.

Conservative Con Men

Bubbly letters always look so innocent. They’re Comic-Sans-esque: reserved for cheesy party invitations and middle school notebook scribbles of “I heart Joey.”

But in this instance, the bubbly’s are carrying a lot more weight—much like what you see from Arial Bold or Impact.  The capitol “CON” and “MEN” are really packing the punch, but the masqueraded “S” is pulling its weight as well. Despite their rounded edges and soft lines, the letters in this piece are expressing a pointed message.

PLAY ON LETTERS - This New York political graffiti piece criticizes conservative government by playing up some letters and using symbols for others.

This cloud of judgment is hanging low over the Brooklyn Queens Expressway in New York City. Having attracted a lot of attention over the years, photos of the image are plastered all over Flickr, some of which date back to 2004 and others of which are as recent as 2011. That’s astonishing long for a piece of graffiti to remain untouched, especially in a city where the art runs rampant.

Evidently, no one has objected strongly enough to the art’s message to want to paint over it. The notion that conservative government is composed of a lot of lying con men whose primary concern is money is apparently well received in this neck of the woods. And while there may be some truth to the fiscally-conscious stereotype attributed to conservatives, the idea of republicans as a bunch of con men looking to dupe people over issues concerning money is obviously over-the-top.

But no matter the message, if nothing else, this piece is a great play on letters. It’s not often that they speak louder than words.