Banksy turns his eye to UK surveillance

By Audra Schroeder on April 15th, 2014

Last we heard from Banksy, he was offering New Yorkers a chance to steal his art. He’s apparently landed back in the UK, and has allegedly produced a new work.

The piece incorporates an existing telephone booth outside a house in Cheltenham, as well as the satellite dish on the side of the building. Three men surround the booth, “listening” in on the conversations of telephone booth ghosts past and present. The kicker: The Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the U.K.’s intelligence agency, is about three miles down the road. The GCHQ, according to documents released by Edward Snowden earlier this year, has quite an extensive surveillance and disinformation program.

The painting appeared overnight April 13. Karen Smith, who lives in the building, saw it around 7:30am on Sunday morning. She claimed she’d heard people talking outside all night, but didn’t bother to look, as that’s common in the area. She told the Gloucester Echo, “It’s pretty good. It livens up the street a bit.”

There’s still no confirmation that it’s a Banksy original, but fellow street artists have suggested it is his work. It’s certainly his style and message, and it’s now become a tourist attraction. According to one local resident, Banksy has temporarily moved into the area to plan and oversee the new artwork.

As well as the phonebooth artwork, Banksy’s official website has been updated to feature a single image: two people locked in an embrace whilst also checking their phones. It seems that the elusive Bristol street artist has turned his satirical focus on surveillance culture and our relationship with technology. Talking of our relationship with technology, after spotting the updated website, eager street art fans are scouring London in hope of discovering the mysterious new work. So far it hasn’t been spotted, but that’s liable to change pretty quickly.

Commenting on the new phonebooth street art, a GCHQ spokesperson told the BBC: “This is the first time we have ever been asked to comment on art.”

They followed that up with their own jab at the piece:

“For those who are interested, our website gives a glimpse of what modern-day intelligence operatives are really like, although some may be disappointed by the lack of trench coats and dark glasses.”