Graffitiing the Brain Space

By Saul Albert, 10 May 2002

Saul Albert gets scared with East London pranksters and anti-brand space warriors – the Space Hijackers‘Meet 10am, Cheapside, City of London. Come dressed as a Starbucks customer.’

I’m trying to fold my shirt collar neatly out of my v-neck sweater when agent Robin Priestley approaches wearing a smart tweed jacket and hands me a pile of green leaflets titled: ‘Dear Coffee Drinker, Don’t Be Scared’ – a catalogue of Starbucks infamy.

‘This operation is lightweight,’ he reassures me, ‘we won’t be needing to run for it.’

The Space Hijackers refused a conventional interview, insisting instead on taking me on a ‘Starbucks Safari’.

‘They think they’re fooling everyone with their ethno-eco-central-perk colour scheme,’ mutters agent Robin as he slaps the flyers facing inwards onto the glass facade, right into the faces of the confused coffee drinkers in the window seats. ‘But people seem genuinely surprised when they find out that brown and green sofas don’t mean fair trade coffee.’ Most smile sheepishly, some ignore, some read, one bloke screams ‘Fuck off’ at the top of his voice and gives us the finger. Everyone around him looks mortified.

If this is lightweight, I ask, what would class as heavyweight?

‘Starbucks fighting,’ says Robin, and tells me we were going to do it later today, but he thought I looked scared enough by the safari.

‘I wear a Starbucks uniform and infiltrate a new branch where all the staff are unfamiliar to each other. You as my accomplice sit down, order a coffee and spill it in front of my mop. I go berserk and beat the shit out of you, and you’ve burst the fake blood caps in your mouth so it looks really messy.’

I feel relieved to have been judged a lightweight, but when I use the phrase ‘street-theatre’ Robin looks like he might attack me anyway.

‘It is NOT street theatre. All that hippy shite is often very alienating and usually about holier-than-thou one-upmanship. Space Hijacking is mental graffiti, designed to change how the space is perceived and take some of that power away from the people who own or design the space.’

In a nearby branch of Dixons electronics where the radio section is blaring out an audio sting for Heart 106.2 Robin fumbles with the buttons of his jacket and suddenly every radio in the shop is screaming with feedback. ‘We make all this cool equipment too!’ His voice comes booming out of the radios, hideously distorted.

Opening his jacket he reveals an aerial wound into the lining of the left arm and a transmitter in the top pocket, wired to a tiny electrostatic microphone concealed in his lapel. The approaching shop assistant swallows her ‘may I help you’ and just stands, staring nervously at a novelty penguin bathroom radio.

Leaving quickly, we start up towards Cornhill and into Gap clothing on Poultry St. When I ask what the plan is, Robin opens his bag and shows me two pairs of socks.

‘I’m taking these back for a refund. My auntie doesn’t think too ethically about where she buys me Christmas presents.’

Saul Albert <saul.albert AT> writes, codes, teaches and talks in London, and makes art with the Twenteenth Century

Space Hijackers []