A Brief Intro to… The Cans Festival

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A Brief Intro to… The Cans Festival

Back in May 2008, Banksy held an exhibition called The Cans Festival in Leake Street, which launched our humble tunnel to fame.

Banksy of course, needs no introduction. The anonymous street artist who started out in Bristol, has contributed towards forming strong political and artistic narratives and become one of the most recognised names in the street art world (if not the art world as a whole). In 2010, his documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop (for which he received an Academy Award for Best Documentary) debuted at the Sundance Film Festival. If people hadn’t heard about Banksy before, they certainly had after this.

A proverbial play on The Cannes Film Festival, this exhibit saw Banksy invite street artists from around the world to paint the walls of Leake Street tunnel, so long as they didn’t cover other works. The tunnel had previously been an access road used by taxi drivers when collecting and dropping off passengers at the Eurostar, but had been essentially been abandoned since the International Terminal moved to King’s Cross. 

Banksy recognised the huge potential of the space and whilst Eurostar no longer owned the tunnel, were happy to support his application to the local authorities to organise the event. In the lead up to the festival, Banksy was quoted in The Daily Telegraph as saying, “Graffiti doesn’t always spoil buildings, in fact it’s the only way to improve a lot of them. In the space of a few hours with a couple of hundred cans of paint I’m hoping we can transform a dark forgotten filth pit into an oasis of beautiful art.”

From 3rd to 5th May 2008, street artists from around the world took to the tunnel with their spray cans, stencils and paint rollers. Amongst them were Vexta, C215, Ben Eine, and Blek Le Rat. Bansky also invited lesser known artists as well as the general public, to come down and get involved, encouraging them to head to the Lower Marsh end of the tunnel (dubbed ‘Stencil Alley’) and use stencils to add to the tunnel’s makeover. 

Turning up in their droves, they beautified the tunnel with both graffiti and installations on a grand scale, such as a tree weighed down by CCTV cameras, smashed up cars and living room set-ups. The event was a media sensation, and launched Leake Street into the art world as a destination for street art.

Check out this video of rare footage of the event.

To mark the anniversary of the Cans Festival, this weekend, a Paint Jam has been organised by local artist Marc Craig. He has invited a group of artists who regularly work in the tunnel to paint together over the weekend as well as work on collaborative pieces. In the spirit of the original Cans Festival, the event will take place at the Lower Marsh end of the tunnel and the general public are welcome to come down and join in.