‘Art is never finished, only altered,’ @therealbanksy tweeted to 130,000 followers last October. Tom Wainwright’s comedy Banksy: The Room in the Elephant opened at the Arcola Theatre in Dalston last week. Wainwright wrote the play in response to the story of Tachowa Covington, who lost his home in a disused water tank in LA after Banksy sprayed ‘This looks a bit like an elephant’ on it two years ago.
The essential moral of Hans Christian Andersen’s story ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ for people who live in a modern western democracy is that when the laughing stops, the emperor is still the emperor. Indeed, he is more powerful for having allowed himself to be laughed at. As for the small boy who pointed out his nakedness, he can deal with him later. In his new title sequence for The Simpsons, already shown in the US and due to air in Britain on 21 October, the graffiti artist Banksy tracks away from the Simpson family on its suburban Springfield sofa to show a subterranean Asian sweatshop making Simpsons merchandise. A child dips images of Bart into a vat of acid, kittens are pulped to make stuffing for Bart dolls, the tongue of a beheaded dolphin licks envelopes, an enslaved panda hauls a cart, an exhausted, broken unicorn punches holes in DVDs.
Provenance and authenticity are always problems for art investors. How do you know it's the real thing? So much more of a problem when the work of art or otherwise is a stencil on a wall that appears overnight. Banksy has posed a difficulty to collectors – even if it's real, who owns that wall, and can I please take a chunk of it away? It has happened. These days you look for a Perspex covering to tell you if it's just some schmuck graffiti-ing the wall or a Banksy worth it's weight in gold bricks. Excitement followed by despair modulated by an upbeat local story then for North-West Londoners who found in Primrose Hill, Belsize Park and Kentish Town a series of grannies clasping kettles to their comfy bosoms next to the words: 'Make tea not war'. A most suitable image for the leafier parts of Camden.
You’d think that after cycling several hundred miles during the week, bicycle couriers would be glad to hang up their bikes at the weekend. But, come Friday night, many are itching to up a gear, an impulse that is occasionally channelled into ersatz point-to-point races. Usually these alleycat races follow a series of checkpoints through London, where manifests must be stamped or strange rituals performed. They are fast, exhilarating and exhausting. Though non-couriers are welcome to enter, I don’t know of any who have won.
Last week, the Palestine Festival of Literature organised a discussion about travel and writing at the Dar Annadwa cultural centre in Bethlehem. One of Palfest's star guests, touring the West Bank and East Jersualem, was Michael Palin, whose early glories, before his reinvention as a traveller, were much on people's minds. He spoke well about growing up in Sheffield and cultivating a passion for Hemingway, but the audience was delighted when someone suggested that living under Israeli occupation was a bit like being in the Terry Gilliam movie Brazil. As the panellists stood up and tidied their books, a young Palestinian in the seat in front of me said she couldn't believe we were all with Palin in Bethlehem – Bethlehem! – and no one had thought to ask about Monty Python's Life of Brian. But with two other writers on the stage, there'd been a lot of ground to cover.
On an unused door in Bristol, birthplace of Banksy, someone has stencilled, several times, in silver spray-paint: ‘Carol Ann Duffy for Poet Laureate’. And then in thick black marker between each glittering demand: ‘Yes!’ – I imagine they came back, ecstatic, on Friday to graffiti their graffiti. I didn’t know anyone cared so much. I thought everyone was with Ian Hamilton, who wrote in the LRB, just before Andrew Motion was appointed ten years ago, that ‘the whole thing is now generally agreed to be a joke.’ The post did, in fact, begin as a joke. The modern poet laureate evolved from the court jester.