Winding up his 2013 “artist’s residency” in New York, Banksy asked, “Don’t we want to live in a world made of art, not just decorated by it?”
Many dreams ago, in 2003, I returned from a land of complete otherness to being surrounded once again by the kinds of pictures and words that all wanted to sell me something. How refreshing it would be, I thought, to look up and see a huge painting on the side of a bus instead of an advert for a phone or a car.
In the intervening years, as technology and digital communication has advanced, many of the major world cities have exploded with street art. Could it be that there is a cause and effect relationship between them?
As the world becomes more hyperlinked and communities become more atomised, the sheer scale of it only highlights the seemingly minuscule scale of the individual. As the sense of “me” grows smaller, so the expressions of “me” grow larger. Enormous paintings on the sides of buildings have become almost commonplace: giant declarations of physical space that cannot fail to be noticed, they seem to say, “we will not be confined to the size of a screen, where no inadvertent glances can find us.”
With science transforming the world at a blistering speed, it’s the smallest things that make it possible – as well as the smallest creatures. When I began my first novel, Tiny Life & The Monster Head, the famous ‘ear mouse’ was still a one-off lab freak. Now they’ve grown a nose on a man’s forehead. While I was writing it, the brains of two lab rats were electronically linked in the first step towards a world wide ‘brain-net’. Before long human beings will start redesigning their own minds.
Meanwhile, the global branding irons march on, stamping their logos over everything in their path, including that land of otherness that is not so ‘other’ anymore.
Today’s kids are growing up with this version of normal. From Biotech revolutions to Facebook revolutions, theirs is the generation of tiny lives that will inherit this dream of the future – a dream that isn’t theirs nor most of ours – a neutralised kind of dream that stays afloat by deflating any others that threaten to rise above it.
“It was big and fast and noisy and they even called it, The City of Dreams but in the human city, every dream had a price tag…The only dreams that were not for sale were the ones painted on the walls by the artists who had dreamed them.” 1
For the guardians of normal, a revolution driven by art is the most dreaded kind of popular uprising. For that reason, nothing is left to chance. To maintain a controllable balance of working reality and fanciful dreamtime, art must always be seen as a marginal activity. But should it happen to spread inward from the eccentric extremities and begin to infect the consensus of normal, it can soon be rendered harmless by mainstream acceptance. Young street artists can be commissioned to paint for the system to stop them painting against it. They can be conditioned to paint like entrepreneurs to stop them painting like outlaws. When instead of tags, they start spraying corporate identities, that’s when you know it’s been nipped in the bud.
Like the art of alchemy, the alchemy of art has the power of transformation. In its most potent form, it invites the viewer to look at reality in a different way. If that subtle shift in perception becomes more than momentary – if at every turn you’re presented with images that challenge reality by giving you a new take on it, instead of reinforcing it by selling you this or that aspect of it – then what we have is a transformation. In a world made of art, not just decorated by it, minds and souls are regenerated and transformation of perception en masse leads inevitably to the transformation of society.
Art is the real threat because art is the resistance. Art is how the embodied soul speaks out. Art is the living dream of who-we-really-are that constantly plagues the deadening dream of who-we-really-aren’t.
So what would it take to sink the false dream that binds and confines us? Simply for more and more people to wake up and start dreaming the world in another direction.
The further humanity is encroached upon by those that seek to constrain it and “augment” it, the more inclined it will feel to kick back with an instinct as old as humanity itself – the same instinct that compelled our earliest ancestors to paint the walls of their caves.
“During his time at Alberto’s, Tiny had been living in a kind of bubble, where the street art was as trendy as the designer clothes that congregated around it, and where the graffiti artists who had once been dirty, rotten vandals were now the toasts of the town. For anyone living in that area, it was easy to lose sight of the reality – that being surrounded by art didn’t make all the people happy. It just made them a little bit harder to control. There were still a lot of angry people and there were still a lot of lonely people. Tiny had never seen so much loneliness. Before he’d come to the city, he wouldn’t have believed it possible for a person to be lonely among so many other people. But with a screen in every pocket, the people were also connected. They were connected like never before and so they were able to share their anger. These monster humans had felt like little people for long enough but together they were not so powerless…
They didn’t have a leader and they didn’t have a plan; they were simply guided by their instincts. And their instincts were crying out for freedom because the dreams they were being sold were not their own. They were false dreams and the little people were waking up from them. Their dreams were not for sale.” 2