The value of art in society is under fire in Banksy: The Room in the Elephant
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2013 show is inspired by a true story
This article is from 2013.
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.