Without location… is it art?

Without location… is it art? Are we loosing sight of what makes these artworks important?

Over the summer of 2021 Lowestoft, Gorleston, Cromer and Great Yarmouth were thrust into the international spotlight with the emergence of the Banksy ‘Spraycation’ artworks. Everyone hoped these publicly accessible works would be available for locals and visitors to enjoy for many years to come. Now only 7 out of 10 of these site specific artworks remain. But why are we loosing them? and are we loosing sight of what makes these artworks important?

Banksy’s ‘Girl with Crowbar and Sandcastle’ August 2021

The wall after Banksy’s artwork was removed in mid November 2021.

Within days of their emergence, one of the Lowestoft Bansky artworks was lost (maybe temporarily, time will tell) when it was vandalised with paint. A second artwork in Gorleston was removed by the authorities because of the delicate and sensitive nature of its location. But arguably the most prominent and easiest Banksy for people to see was the spray-painted image of a girl holding a crowbar that appeared on an empty shop in Lowestoft overnight in early August. Now this has been lost to commercialism..

Commercialism – emphasis on the maximizing of profit,
concerned with the making of profit at the expense of artistic or other value
.

This artwork had already started to loose its meaning as its ‘site’ started to disappear. Local authorities very quickly replaced the broken paving slabs that formed part of the piece and the sandcastle simply blew away in the wind. The building it was created on was up for sale before Banksy visited and the asking price was more than doubled when the owners became aware of their lucky windfall. Recently it became apparent that the owners planned to cut the artwork out of the wall and according to local and national news reports, they would then send it off to an auction house in the US. The removal of the artwork from this building has now happened.

The artwork being installed on a privately owned building means that the sale, removal and treatment of the artwork is down to the personal choice of the owner. Rather than focusing on the inevitably large and grotesque sums of money and that this artwork will undoubtable sell for, I’m concerned with the loss of cultural heritage that these artworks created in the sites that they are located in.

Street art often makes a commentary on the surroundings that it is placed in. These artworks are accessible and relatable, inspiring cultural and societal conversations. Not only will their loss reduce visitors to the region, but the essence of any site specific artwork ceases to exist the moment it is taken from it’s intended location. The artist chose the location, reacted to it, thus creating an unbreakable bond between site and artwork.

My suggestion to those that wish to buy, sell and profit from the destruction of site specific art, why not buy it in situ. Invest in the place that gives the artwork it’s narrative and know that you are the custodian of both a site and an artwork.

You can hear me discuss this subject with Jon Wright on and edit of our conversation on BBC Radio Norfolk

Banksy artwork in Great Yarmouth
Banksy artwork in Oulton Broad, Suffolk

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