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Posts Tagged ‘Banksy’

In my previous post I used a photo of some London graffiti by Banksy to illustrate the theme of surveillance. It’s of a child painting an enormous political slogan about Big Brother society on a wall that is being scanned by a real CCTV camera! (See the images below.)

This is how he did it:

Banksy pulled off an audacious stunt to produce what is believed to be his biggest work yet in central London.

The secretive graffiti artist managed to erect three storeys of scaffolding behind a security fence despite being watched by a CCTV camera.

Then, during darkness and hidden behind a sheet of polythene, he painted this comment on ‘Big Brother’ society.

Yesterday the scaffolding gang returned to remove all evidence – again without the camera operator stopping them.

The work, above a Post Office yard in Newman Street near Oxford Circus, shows a small boy, watched by a security guard, painting the words: ‘One nation under CCTV.’

Andrew Newman, 35, a businessman from Dulwich, who works locally, said: ‘It was only on Sunday morning that the Post Offices guys realised what had happened.’

One nation under CCTV by David Boyle.

And then, of course, it got removed, and the camera could get on with its business again:

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David Bond has an article in yesterday’s Evening Standard about the extent of surveillance in Britain at the moment.

He goes through the usual list of governmental and commercial tracking that goes on, often unacknowledged, from the low-level surveillance of supermarket loyalty cards and freely shared social networking information, through the new NHS database, to the 250 CCTV cameras that populate his neighbourhood in Hoxton, London.

London has been the world’s test bench for a range of tracking gadgets. We have more CCTV than any other city – there are 250 cameras alone within a mile of my house in Hoxton. Again, convenience was at the heart of the sales pitch, this time to the police. Imagine, no more trudging the cold streets. Sit in comfort and watch the crimes unfold. You only need to get out there when there is a problem. And to citizens, the systems are sold by fear. Crime is too widespread to catch on foot, we were told. We need to use the all-seeing eye. So why did the recent House of Lords report conclude that CCTV has had little or no effect in preventing or detecting crime? The massive industry that sells CCTV to government had a ready answer — because it is not really good enough yet. The images are too blurry. There are not enough cameras. Or perhaps they need to be fitted with more advanced software (now being installed in central London stations) that can recognise your face, or even how you walk. Once the technology is perfected, then it will really start to improve our lives. Or will it?

What made the article particular interesting was that he went underground, tried to live a hidden life away from the tracking technology, and hired a firm of private investigators to see how long it would take them to find him from publically available information.

I wanted to know what other people can know about me. What is out there in the public domain? Can it be used to profile me to the extent that a determined investigator, identity thief or stalker, could know what I am likely to do in the future — and catch me?

Within an hour of searching for me (all they had to start with was my name and a recent photo) the private investigators had ordered my wife’s, my own and my daughter’s birth certificates, and my parents’ and my marriage certificates.

They ran my name through a number of profiling systems to give them my credit rating, details of property I owned and my employment history. They also ran a quick profile of me on social networking sites. I had tried to remove myself from Facebook (you can never really remove yourself from Facebook) but they were able to find a good crop of my friends. I am not particularly vulnerable, by the way, anyone could do the same to you.

Before running away, I wanted to find out what data is out there about me as an average Londoner. I compiled a list of 80 organisations — companies, government agencies, social networks — that know about me. I made subject access requests under the Data Protection Act to all of them.

The results were staggering. My desk disappeared under a mountain of paper. It turns out that the DVLA still had records of a driving offence I committed in my late teens. I am 38 and they are supposed to be deleted after 10 years. Amazon provided 120 pages of orders, friends to whom I send presents and even things that I might be interested in, based on my previous browsing.

Transport for London reluctantly sent me a terrifying log of every crossing in and out of the congestion charge zone I have ever made. I had bought a low-emission car to avoid the charge, but they track it anyway. When I called them to ask why, the bemused manager said that the police might need it if I got myself in trouble in the future. “It’s not a police state or anything,” he reassured me.

My bank sent me records of my phone calls. It had lost a cheque in 1997, and the transcript read like a Stasi file. “Mr Bond seems angry. His voice is raised. And he is considering leaving the bank.” Tesco knows what food I like. I suppose that’s not a surprise. But it also has me pegged as, among other things, a new dad, who buys beer on a Friday, and sometimes a little more than average …

In itself, this data was unsettling but what really gave me the fear was when I called these people back and asked them to delete the data. “Do what?” was the standard response. “Delete it, please.” “Oh no, we don’t do that.”

And the penny dropped. Knowledge is power. For governments, this means control, for companies, profit. Once we give this stuff up, we are never getting it back and it sits around forever.

You can see the TV documentary on More4 at 10pm on Tuesday. And look at the website here.

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BIGBANKGIRLBALOON by David Boyle.There is a wonderful exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum called ‘Fakes and Forgeries‘. I’m sorry to be recommending it so late in the day – it finishes this Sunday (7th Feb).

The exhibits ‘belong’ not to some rich collector or charitable foundation, but to the Metropolitan Police, and they are all items that have been used as evidence in recent forgery trials.

In the first room there are some masterpieces by de Staël, Chagall and Giacometti – but they are really by John Myatt, one of the greatest forgers of the late 20th century. And as an example of changing fashions within the art market there is a ‘Balloon Girl’ stencil print in the style of Banksy, the contemporary graffiti artist.

It raises so many questions. If John Myatt can paint as well as de Staël, Chagall and Giacometti, does that mean he is the greater artistic genius (because unlike them he is not trapped within a certain style)? Why should the price of a luminous painting crash just because the certificate of authenticity is shown to be worthless? (I know, because it’s a market, and we are paying for the connection with the artist and for the investment).

A lovely twist arises from the fact that some of Myatt’s paintings are now becoming collectors’ items in their own right because of his fame and the notoriety of the cases.

I learnt some legal definitions. A ‘fake’ is an ‘innocent’ object that is later tampered with, e.g. by adding a fake signature. A ‘forgery’ is an object that is ‘guilty’ from the start – it was created in order to deceive someone. A ‘copy’ is a replica of a work of art that is created without any intention to deceive. A beautiful ‘Matisse’ is displayed here, even with his signature copied in the corner – but this is perfectly legal, because no-one was trying to pretend that it was really a Matisse.

blatant forgery by Yersinia.

Much of the skill lies in creating a false provenance: fake letters of authentication, false stories about how the work passed from the artist’s studio to the present-day, even tampering with archives in order to create the impression that a non-existent work really did exist in the documented history.

I know forgery is wrong, but the exhibition had all the fascination of a good heist film, and I couldn’t help admiring – not the dishonesty of the forgers, but their artistic skill and ingenuity.

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