When it was announced Friday that an abandoned tunnel formerly used by the Eurostar was going to be given over to graffiti artists, Londonist cleared space in our Bank Holiday weekend. Of course the big name that’s bringing the crowds to the Cans Festival is Banksy: it’s always interesting when he’s part of a project with prior approval. But visitors take note: Banksy isn’t the star of the show, he’s just one of many participants. So if you go looking for a Banksy exhibition, you’re going to be disappointed.
One final warning: be prepared to wait. If you’re a big fan of street and stencil art, then waiting half an hour like we did to get into the tunnel for free probably won’t irk you too much. But you’re little more than casually curious, know that you’re going to be backed up down York Road and then weaving in and out of those weird crowd control barricades for a while.
Okay, warnings over. Back to the art: It’s really nice to see a derelict tunnel being put to such creative use, and honestly it makes for a really interesting atmosphere, especially when car crashes and ice cream trucks are taken into consideration. Of course, sitting in an armchair while a man in waistcoat plays a spray painted piano, or regarding psychedelically coloured playground equipment has a very surreal character to it, but if surrealism is your thing it’s positively delightful.
As for the stencil, the Cans Festival has done a fine job assembling an impressive roster of artists from around the world. Brooklyn’s Faile and the Netherland’s Bandit are perhaps two of the better known artists that participated, and both make strong showings on large scales (Bandit’s “Hey Banksy Why Don’t You Return My Emails?” and two crashed cars piled one on top of the other are attracting a lot of attention). They are in good company with artists from Argentina, Italy, Brazil, and the US exhibiting works that are politically and socially charged, but sometimes light and comical, and other times just pretty.
This Londonista was particularly fond of an Alice and Wonderland-like girl strutting down a catwalk flanked by white rabbits, a banana in a therapy session, an armadillo sculpture made of a traffic cone and some beer cans, Nadie Crew’s “Nobody Cares,” and the deceptively simple “How To Sneak A Bomb Onto The South Bank,” because artwork that you need 3D glasses to look at is awesome.
Cans Festival is officially on until 10pm Monday; what’s going to happen to the tunnel after that is anyone’s guess. Surely the stencils will remain for some time (or at least they’ll take a while to buff off), but get the full effect of smashed up cars and dudes playing pianos it’s best to there while there’s some sort of guarantee. And all of you aspiring stencil artists (particularly those of you who fear criminal records), there is a section reserved for visitors to participate. It’s strictly stencils — spray painting your name freeform won’t fly — but all you need to do is sign in with reception and they’ll point you to a blank space. Go forth and express yourselves; how often can you say you’re artwork is side by side with Banksy’s?
The Cans Festival is running until 10pm 5 May. Leake Street, SE1 7NN, off of York Road. Nearest Tube: Waterloo. Entrance is free, commemorative programs are £3.