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SpY's "Cameras" Is Less Obnoxious Than Any Street Art By Banksy

There may be more than meets the TV-eye in his non-function security cameras

Artist SpY is more direct and less coy than Banksy's recent New York residency, even though former is often called "The Spanish Banksy." SpY, a graffiti artist-turned-street art vigilante, creates double take-worth installations and artwork in public spaces with clear rhetorical goals and messages. 

Whereas Banksy's "obvious cheekiness" embraces kitsch to the fullest, SpY's work is tongue-in-cheek without being as in-your-face or obnoxious, often due to where he chooses to place his work. His recent installation in Madrid, titled Cameras, is a straightforward comment on privacy invasion and surveillance, as the army of security cameras fixed to an ordinary building's wall do not actually function.

Yes, this public art could be called "obvious" as well, but the choice to put the cameras on the plain wall of a plain building on a side street makes this work more interesting than when Banksy put a truck full of "screaming" stuffed farm animals in the Meatpacking District. It's melodramatic and trite to put the USDA Organic x Build-A-Bear work in the area of Manhattan that includes both the literal meat packers and the luxury brands and upper echelon of material and consumer culture. The installation was one huge wink that ended in an even bigger sigh. The smoke and mirrors spectacle was enthralling for all of five minutes--a bottle rocket, disguised a 4th of July fireworks extravaganza.

SpY, on the other hand, picked a spot where no one might notice his work. It'd be one thing if he put the cameras in Madrid's Plaza Mayor, or another place with heavy foot traffic, but this tucked-away side street adds more layers to his work: Who exactly would be watched on this side street? Do places and urban spaces suddenly become "important" if they are being watched? Could the information gathered by the NSA and privacy-invading groups actually be useless and nothing to sweat over? Maybe our tracked phone calls and emails are about as relevant as a dusty side street in a slow-paced city. Cameras also complements other manipulations of security cameras, including the Insecurity Camera built at the School for Poetic Computation.

Compared to his past public installations, like when SpY gave homeless men signs that say "0 Likes" with the Facebook "Thumbs Up" emoji, Cameras is clouded by less smoke and fewer mirrors. Its over-arching goal may be extremely definable, but it's more interesting than a cheap public spectacle with a thrill that lasts as long as a poppers high.

His website states that his "pieces want to be a parenthesis in the automated inertia of the urban dweller." This may sound pretentious, but when you think about the real, average "urban dweller," it's a city resident who lives in an arbitrary neighborhood or overlooked street like where Cameras rests, not a tourist who's walking on the Highline or some other platform that represents the idealized version of a city. Worth noting: Banksy had to pay $50,000 on security to protect his street art on the raised pathway--a gesture that's contradictory to the ephemereal soul of the medium. The side street is the city's veins (where the blood and life of Madrid really flows), whereas Banksy shoots for the cartoon heart that histrionically beats out of Bug Bunny's chest when he sees something "spectacular."  SpY even told The Creators Project in an email that the building is in front of a well-known drug dealer's house in the Tetuan-Madrid neighborhood. 

Unlike his non-functioning cameras, we plan on keeping an eye on SpY to see if his next project makes public art more interesting than Banksy's temper tantrum pleas for attention in 2013. 

@zachsokol