Dublin’s best new street artist

The footpaths of Dublin have, over the past few days, become home to an extraordinary piece of street art that surely must count as one of the most extensive in recent history – some inspired creative is covertly decorating every manhole in the city centre with yellow wrench silhouettes, creating a ubiquitous, recurring pattern of sprayed paint and memories of ghostly metal. In its scale and ambition, if not intricacy, it deserves to be ranked with the very best work of famous international artists such as Banksy, Shepard Fairey and JR.

But why? Why create a two-dimensional toolbox underfoot? In lying across the edge of every weakspot on our pavement, do the pieces aspire to draw attention to the danger that lurks beneath us, the threat that hides beneath the city’s footpaths? To engender a sense of vulnerability in those places that seem most familiar?

A wrench connotes solidity, heft, weight; and thus the wrench’s absence forces us to feel the mass of that which is not there, to discern the almost tangible burden of its cold metal in our hands. It informs a self-referential dialogue between the seemingly tactile and the literally immaterial.

It also speaks of our imperfect memory, with each silhouette differing dramatically in its fidelity to the shape of its steel stencil – each discrete piece of the overall work reinforcing how vaguely we remember our life, how imperfectly we recall the past, and ultimately, to acknowledge the poverty of our very perception.

There is also the heavily symbolic, and unavoidable, interpretation, which sees the ephemeral wrench, a tool of the working man, being trampled on by the myriad feet of the self-obsessed citizenry, oblivious to the plight of what they consider beneath them.

It is, cumulatively, a stunningly powerful project, one that I thought would have attracted more acclaim, and certainly more hype, than it has. Perhaps the enduring anonymity of the artist, or artists (for surely an endeavour as meticulously choreographed as this requires accomplices), has dulled its impact. Perhaps, in advance of impending visits from queen and president, we are distracted, looking up at our city’s gleaming facades in hope rather than down at the art that kisses the soles of our feet in admiration.

Whatever the reason, this street artist has chosen this most rudimentary canvas, and has literally reclaimed the street as his or her own. Thank you, whoever you are, for bringing some provocative art, not to mention colour, to our beleaguered city. Perhaps, in appreciation, we should christen the artist “The King of the Spanners”.

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