Thieving Cows?

A few days after the Cow Parade was inaugurated in Madrid a group of 6 youths stole one of the sculptures on display in Plaza Lavapies . Somehow, in the early hours of Sunday morning, they managed to unscrew the base of the cow, which weighs about 400 kilos, and kidnap ithe sculpture without anyone seeing them. It was taken by the local kids to their apartment block a few streets away, and carried up to their fifth floor flat without the use of a lift. It was only at this point that a curtain-twitching neghbour alerted the police. They turned up the following day with one of the exhibition organisers, to liberate the cow. She was subsequently returned unharmed to her plinth in the plaza. The organinsers of the event were quoted as saying ‘You have to really have your head screwed on to unscrew one of these sculptures from its base.’ They also said it was most unusual for one of the cows to go walkabout during Cow Parade. But then, they didn’t count on the inhabitants of Lavapies, who are indeed unusual.

The international exhibiton, over the last ten years or so since its conception, has paraded through over 65 cities in three different continents, and there are only two other cases of kidnapping.

While the exhibiton was in Prague a cow was stolen and believed to have been dumped in the river.

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...or the cow gets it

During the Stockholm event a Swedish Organization called the Militant Graffiti Artists of Stockholm kidnapped and decapitated one of the cows after releasing a video in which two balaclava-clad militants held power drills to its head, and proclaimed,

“We, the members of The Militant Graffiti Artists of Stockholm feel morally obligated to protect our city against the Cows that have invaded our streets…..The cows are Not Art. …. Advertisements can never be art….We have taken a hostage. We demand that the cows be declared Non-Art and… before 12:00 August 23rd, leave our streets.….If our demands are not met, the hostage will be sacrificed. Vandalism and artistic justice will be administered.”

The event organisers tried to negotiate with the kidnappers and offered them a white cow to decorate in exchange for the stolen one, so that they could clarify what “real art” was. They also offered to auction off this piece with the others at the end of the event. But the ac tivists were not impressed.Vandalism and artistic justice were soon administered. The pieces of the executed cow were sent in a black bin-liner to one of the Swedish daily newspapers and a video of the beheading posted on the graffiti artists’ website.

So, only three cases of kidnapping over a ten year period. But it is the Lava pies theft that interests me because it says so much about this neighbourhood and the character of its mixed bag of inhabitants. The Prague disappearance was an act of mindless vandalism. The Stockholm stunt was an ironic and well-planned poltical statement. In both cases the cows were destroyed. But the cownapping here was an inspired spontaneous decision by a group of mates, made in the early hours of Saturday night/Sunday morning, probably under the influence of alcohol, drugs or both. She was returned unharmed and there was no real malice involved. It is the equivalent of taking a traffic cone home on your head, or helping yourself to someone’s garden gnome on the way home from the pub, only it takes six to carry it, and it’s a far more prestigious trophy. The theft shows a certain ‘devil-may-care’ attitude to authority, (given the huge number of video surveillance cameras recording every second of our existence), and a great deal of initiative, problem-solving and teamwork (unscrewing the base, carrying it up to the fifth floor without a lift), It also demonstrates a sense of entitlement to public property, or to anything that isn’t nailed down. And to some things that are.

It reminds me of the history of my front door. Today we have a smart, laquered wooden door at the main entrance to my block, with a glass panel in it. But I was told that during the recent rennovations, the original brand new front door was dropped onto its hinges by the carpenters ready to be properly attached. When they arrived the next day to screw in the fittings there was no front door.

Theft of public property of this kind only re-inforces the negative opinions of those who believe Lavapies is no more than a filthy immigrant neighbourhood with soaring crime rates . In this city if you mention that you live in Lavapies to anybody ‘pijo’ (upper middle class/posh), eyebrows will most certainly be raised. Many people seem to see it as a dangerous no-go area. They have never dared to come down here and take a look for themselves, yet they have a clear picture in their head of what it is like, and this picture is a Hogarth drawing.

Gin Lane

Gin Lane

So why would anyone choose to live in Sodom and Gomorra? Even the neghbours association vecinosdelavapies pokes a wry finger at local delinquinecy in its glorious Lavapies Olympics project (more of that coming soon). But Lavapies is also a laid back, multi-cultural , democratic and vibrant neighbourhood. It has been compared to the Alexandria of the thirties immortalised by Durrell in his writing. I would bet good money that the Militant Graffiti Artists of Stockholm would feel just as at home here as I do. As would Banksy. The neighbourhood may have its fair share of scallies and thieving cows, but that, like so many things in Lavapies, you just have to take with a pinch of salt.

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