The value of art in society is under fire in Banksy: The Room in the Elephant

This article is from 2013

Banksy: The Room In The Elephant

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2013 show is inspired by a true story

For their tale based on a real-life event, the team behind Banksy: The Room in the Elephant – director Emma Callander (of Theatre Uncut), writer Tom Wainwright and actor and former Eastenders star Gary Beadle – have lucked out with a story that provides a launchpad into a discussion of the way we live our lives today. It begins when the internationally renowned graffiti artist Banksy is in Los Angeles with his Oscar-nominated film Exit Through the Gift Shop, when he paused to spray the words ‘this looks a bit like an elephant’ on an old water tank – that was also the residence of a homeless man named Tachowa Covington.

Presumably the comment showed that the elephantine structure represented the unspoken ‘out of sight, out of mind’ nature of homelessness to Banksy. But the story very quickly became about the results of his actions when shadowy corporate individuals turned up, turfed Covington out and requisitioned his home as a highly valuable work of art. ‘It’s about the fact we’re putting prices on things that can’t be sold,’ says Callander of a play she says is more a part-rap, part-spoken word monologue. ‘We’re losing our perspective on commercial value and we need to strongly readdress what’s important.’

She says the play was created with the help of Covington – who now lives in a tent near the site – and some poetic licence from Wainwright. ‘It asks, what is art?’ she says. ‘It asks about the ongoing conversation about what gets painted over and what gets sold for millions, and what’s the difference between those two things. But it’s also about what things cost, about how commercialisation can become dangerous when it becomes more important than people’s lives.’

Pleasance Courtyard, 556 6550, 3–26 Aug (not 13, 19), 1pm, £9–£12 (£8–£11). Previews 31 Jul–2 Aug, £7.

Banksy: The Room in the Elephant

Banksy: The Room in the Elephant

  • 5 stars

The Sum with the Tobacco Factory Theatre. UK graffiti artist Banksy sprayed This Looks A Bit Like An Elephant on a disused water tank in Los Angeles that a guy had been living inside for years. The tank instantly became a work of art and was taken away to be sold. By making a statement did Banksy end up making a man…

Banksy: The Room In The Elephant

  • Directed by: Emma Callander
  • Written by: Tom Wainwright

The story of a homeless man living within a work by Banksy: an old water tank in Los Angeles with 'This Looks A Bit Like An Elephant' spray painted on the side. When the tank becomes a work of art, its resident is suddenly homeless again.