The final major work of Hull’s year as City of Culture had been an epic light installation called WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? It involved monstrous spotlights – the machines themselves like robot aliens hunched in the streets – which each night would shine on the architectural icons of the city that had been restored and revamped as a result of #Hull2017 money.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE was an interesting choice of words; optimistic in their way, but also uncertain. A similarly ambiguous phrase is stencilled on one of the walls down Humber Street: ‘CHANGE IS HAPPENING’.
Change certainly has happened down there; from derelict fruit market to vibrant hipster enclave to gentrified dead-spot where more people are turned away from the gin bars than are let in. However, as we head into May 2018 there’s an uneasy sense that perhaps the city as a whole is, ultimately, going nowhere: nothing is happening.
This outcome already seemed highly likely back in January, but it seemed important to mark it in some way; to herald in the new era, or more accurately, the return of the old era; the one that would return art to the fringes, which in a city like Hull is exactly where it belongs.
And so, in response to Jason Bruges’ awe-inspiring display, Pat the Egg and I went to B&M and bought a torch, a little Mag-Lite rip off that cost a pound, and set about creating our own conceptual street-art installation.
From our limited understanding of such things, we knew that first you need to publish a plan, and our plan ran as follows:
Which sounds pretty convincing for what is basically taking a picture of a torch between pubs on a standard Saturday night out. Most of the photos didn’t do the installation justice, but here are a few that turned out all right:
And when we used the torch to illuminate the words Nothing is Happening the results did have an agreeably eerie quality. For a brief moment it felt as if we had legitimately crossed the line between pissing about and genuine art:
We’d hoped the torch would shine like that for at least the entire night, but the bulb blew out before we’d even walked the length of the street.
That same morning it had been revealed that Banksy had graffitied a disused bridge on WIncolmlee, not far from the Whalebone pub. The Whalebone’s a regular haunt, and I had seen a group of studenty looking characters casing the bridge a couple of Saturdays prior. Whether one of them was Banksy I’ll never know, because I never stopped to ask what they were doing. For the record, however, none of them looked old enough to be the guy out of Massive Attack.
I’m not sure how I feel about Banksy. Grafitti is supposed to be vandalism. Illicit. As soon as local council twats start placing glass panels over your work, then your credentials as a subversive artist are pretty much redundant. Anybody who can make waves in the legitimate art world no longer has any business defacing industrial estates.
What’s more, Hull is still a place where working class artists have a chance of getting themselves noticed, but only because the middle-class, big-city names don’t come up her. When a Banksy turns up in New York or London it makes for an interesting diversion; when they turn up in the provincial cities, the balloon goes up. The Hull Daily Mail, relieved to have something else to cover other than bad drivers and ne’er-do-wells climbing on roofs, must have devoted dozens of pages to Scott Street Bridge. In the meantime, the limelight has been stolen from authentic local rebels.
As soon as local council twats start placing glass panels over your work, then your credentials as a subversive artist are pretty much redundant.
Banksy is an insider and Hull is an outsider’s town, one that ought to embrace real outsider art; art that nobody knows or cares about, like a torch left under a flyover by two drunken arseholes.
Something needed to be done to undermine it, and after completing Nothing is Happening Number One, what really seemed appealing was to wander down to the Banksy with two large cans of white paint and sling them across it. Emulsion paint, the stuff you can’t easily clean off; something guaranteed to utterly ruin it. But of course, half cut at 2.30am, such thoughts are academic; even in Hull there are no hardware shops open at that time in the morning. Instead we made plans to return the next night, and in the meantime we’d register our distaste with the most obvious resources to hand: we’d piss on it.
On the walk towards Wincolmlee we encountered a young long-haired lad who claimed to share our point of view. He walked with us a little while as we shared our plan, and said he understood perfectly because he’d been to art-school. However, he did make his excuses when we asked if he wanted to join us.
We’d register our distaste with the most obvious resources to hand: we’d piss on it.
Of course we never did it. Neither pissed on the Banksy or painted over it. We wandered up to Scott Street Bridge, which was deserted at that time of night, were struck dumb by the might of the glamorous artist’s graffito, then went to the casino to eat a horrible steak and wait for a taxi.
I knew as soon as I woke up the next morning (bilious from that horrible steak) I would never have the nerve to go back and destroy it. I’d feel too embarrassed when it was reported in the national papers. My mum would know it was me.
Fortunately, somebody else had done the job for us. I wondered who was behind that; could it have been the young art-school grad we’d crossed paths with a few hours earlier? Unfortunately, they’d made a mistake and used a water-based aerosol paint that was easily removed by a philistine window cleaner.
By then it was too late. The Banksy was soon covered in glass, and then it multiplied. The walls around Wincolmlee were deemed fair game; a council-approved spot for street art, sponsored by Crown Paint. There are a lot more young hipsters in cool hats in Whalebone than there used to be. Rumour has it that the old Maizecor Factory is earmarked for being turned into flats. Something is happening after all.