Scientists believe they have un-masked the (almost) un-maskable: Banksy.
“Georgraphic profiling” – a technique that is usually used to track serial criminals, has apparently proved that Banksy is a man named Robin Gunningham. The Evening Standard released a story claiming Gunningham to be the man behind Banksy back in July 2004, the Daily Mail also ran a story in 2008. Now scientists at the Queen Mary University of London have found that the distribution of works by Banksy corroborate these claims.
The university says it has “tagged” Banksy by using publicly available information to identify a pattern between the locations where his artworks most regularly appear and an address closely affiliated with Gunningham – the ‘hot spots’ being a pub, playing fields, a residential address in Bristol and three addresses in London.
However so the scientist who are also fans of the artist, have said they don’t believe they can take full credit for “unmasking” him. As biologist Dr Steve Lee Comber said: “If you Google Banksy and Gunningham you get something like 43,500 hits.”
The study was to appear in the Journal of Spatial Science, but, unsurprisingly for an artist who has made it one of his main objectives to remain anonymous, Banksy wasn’t too keen on being the star subject of the “georprofiling” and so his lawyers contacted the university about their concerns as to how the study which is now available online, Tagging Banksy, would be advertised. The primary problem apparently being the wording of the press release, which has since been removed.
The aim of the study according to its researchers, is to demonstrate the wider potential of geographic profiling, a statistical analysis that is used in criminology to try and determine possible locations where a repeat offender (- like Banksy) might be hiding. The paper says: “The pseudonymous artist Banksy is one of the UK’s most successful contemporary artists, but his identity remains a mystery. The model takes as input the locations of these artworks, and calculates the probability of ‘offender’ residence across the study area”. Biologist Steve Le Comber, a co-author of the report, told the BBC: “I’d be surprised if it’s not (Gunningham), even without our analysis, but it’s interesting that the analysis offers additional support for it. What I thought I would do is pull out the 10 most likely suspects, evaluate all of them and not name any. But it rapidly became apparent that there is only one serious suspect, and everyone knows who it is.”
The accuracy of the paper has been put into question: “The method itself is incredibly imprecise, and uses only suspected cases of Banksy’s artwork (Banksy performs his art anonymously, so it’s not obvious which pieces belong to him, or if the work is performed by multiple people),” said the Gizmodo technology blog, which added: “As a potential privacy concern, there’s much to be worried about.”