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Banksy’s UNexhibition

A review by Nalini Haynes

On 7 November after a huge weekend at PAX, my partner and I walked up to Fed Square in Melbourne to see Banksy’s exhibition. I’ve been following Banksy for years so I was really excited to have this opportunity to see his work in person while I was in Melbourne.

We walked along South Bank and up some stairs to get to Swanston Street, crossed at the lights and walked into Fed Square. There was a big sign advertising the exhibition but my partner couldn’t see any directions or the tent in which the exhibition was to be housed. At his suggestion we walked up into Fed Square to reach ACMI where we asked for directions.

I pinched a nerve in my back earlier this year so, even after months of physiotherapy, my back was hurting progressively more over the weekend. I survived by doing my exercises and managing activities so pain didn’t incapacitate me again. Even walking to Fed Square was aggravating, increasing my pain. I worried about my ability to cope with the rest of the day but I would have been crushed to be so close to a Banksy exhibition and not seen it. However, walking up hills and using stairs exacerbates the pain even more.

The woman at ACMI gave us directions. I was fairly sure she’d given us directions to the Atrium but, my husband being sighted and getting more visual cues than me, assured me that she meant we were to descend the worst stairs in Fed Square, about two stories high and flights descending at odd angles. If she’d told us to go to the river and take a left, we could have walked the much more gentle slopes down out of Fed Square and along the river. By the time I finished that flight of stairs I was in real pain and moving stiffly.

We followed the riverbank and found a huge sign giving vague directions but my partner figured it out. We had to walk around and through some landscaping features (around a building, past what may have been a rock garden or a playground and through some trees).

Now my partner saw more signs (small and high up) so he was confident we were going the right way. The stairs to a bridge were partially fenced off as if construction work or maintenance might be underway.

The signs pointed to the left of the stairs so we had to walk through some mud (there was a stream of water directed across a gravel footpath for no apparent reason) and across uneven terrain: where we’d usually stay on the path we walked over some bricks or something because the temporary fencing was partially blocking the path.

If you’re in a wheelchair you might be able to drive across the unevenness but the entry is so narrow that it’s likely none but the smallest wheelchairs could make it through the space.

We walked to the end of the gravel footpath to a space that I thought was Flinders Street but it we were on the riverside of the train tracks with some roads as well.

We arrived to find a white tent with temporary fencing blocking it off, signs warning people away and a couple of security guards telling people when the opening hours were (“after 4 pm today and tomorrow then 11 am on Thursday…”).

There wasn’t even anywhere to sit unless I wanted to sit in the gravel or on the road without any back support; I couldn’t even lean against a wall. I wanted to cry in pain and frustration and disappointment.

As we walked away my partner said there were workmen in the area as well; he couldn’t understand what was going on. He said the exhibition had already started so they weren’t getting set up and the website didn’t have anything about opening hours on it.

It dawned on me: this travesty of a joke is consistent with Banksy’s subversive sense of humour. THIS was the exhibition.

Pity it CAUSED ME PAIN in an attempt to see it and I couldn’t even see what my partner saw because it was fenced off.

On our way back to Swanston Street there were lots and lots of signs about the exhibition. I took a few photos and posted them to Instagram.

If mobility is difficult (painful or if you have a standard or large wheelchair) I’d recommend giving this exhibition a miss or just looking at the signage on the riverbank near Swanston Street. Hopefully the artist doesn’t have any awareness of disability issues because, if he did, he’d know that experiencing his exhibition is just another example of barriers and exclusion, just another frustrating, painful disappointment in a long litany of crap poured upon the disabled community from a great height.

LA gets Banksy’s Elephant in the Room exhibition. We get Banksy’s UNexhibition. “Exhibition closed”.

Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


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