The Null Device
A teenaged graffiti artist in London has been arrested after stealing a box of pencils which were part of a Damien Hirst art installation. The purloined pencils have been valued at £500,000, making this potentially one of the highest value art thefts in modern Britain.
The graffiti artist in question goes by the name of Cartrain, and those who have been in Shoreditch over the past few years may have seen his works. It is probably fair to describe him as being like a mediocre, though relentlessly self-promoting, Banksy wannabe. He does vaguely "edgy"/"subversive" stencil art, albeit crudely executed and with little thought put into its meaning; the average Cartrain piece seems to be a bunch of hot-button subjects ("look, Ronald McDonald in a prison jumpsuit! That says something about, umm, capitalism or globalisation or something...") randomly mashed together in a desperate, attention-seeking bid to be controversial. Then again, Cartrain is, by all accounts, only 17 years old, and a product of the values of the Thatcherite-Blairite marketing society, a society in which what Erich Fromm called the Marketing Personality has become the norm. Growing up in the Marketing Society, you learn that you are not just yourself but Brand You, a commodity whose value is constantly plotted on an invisible stock exchange, and only losers miss opportunities to promote themselves and maximise their market value. (Of course, Damien Hirst and his fellow veterans of Saatchi and Cool Britannia, are prime exemplars of success in the Marketing Society.) Needless to say, this is a lesson young Cartrain seems to have taken to heart, and while he may not have honed the skills of fine draftsmanship or developed an original voice that says anything more than blurting a word salad of vaguely "edgy" concepts, he has his own art dealer selling his juvenilia while he's still a juvenile. (Should you wish to buy some, you can do so here.)
Cartrain's first run-in with Hirst was when he used a photograph of Hirst's diamond-encrusted skull sculpture, "For The Love Of God", to use in a collage, which he sold online. Hirst, canny intellectual-property entrepreneur that he is, brought the full weight of copyright law down, and had Cartrain's artworks seized. In retaliation, Cartrain allegedly purloined the pencils from Hirst's "Pharmacy" installation at Tate Britain, posting a police wanted poster and a ransom demand, in which he threatened to sharpen the pencils unless his artworks were returned. A few weeks later, he and his father were arrested by the Art and Antiques Squad. The box of pencils was, according to the police, a very rare "Faber Castell dated 1990 Mongol 482 Series", worth half a million pounds, whose theft damaged a £10-million public artwork.