Monday, November 29, 2010

Exit Through the Gift Shop a Banksy Film Now in theaters in Berlin, Germany. by craniv boyd

Exit through the gift shop a Banksy Film 2010 now in theaters in Berlin, Germany.



"I have got nothing to do now not now never, I am never doing anything now…"


French Los Angeles second hand clothier turned documentairian turned super appropriation/ street artist Thierry Guetta  utters these words as a promise, a show of good faith, and pledge to the Anonymous English Street artist Banksy on his first professional visit to Los Angeles. This fortuitous start of a relationship is recounted By Banksy himself and the Frenchman some where in the middle of Banksy's New film and foray into documentary film making titled "Exit through the Gift shop" currently in theatres in Berlin.


One almost expects this opus(now nominated for best documentary for the Oscars 2011) with the subtitle 'a Banksy Film' to be blatant self-promotion in the form of time based media. Rather it serves as blatant self-promotion thinly cloaked as a survey film of the heavy hitters of the so called street art movement, and the story of a lesser known street artist and character extraordinaire Thierry Guetta.  Banksy following in the tradition the YBA's set forth in 1988 with their exhibition titled Freeze, is now master purveyor of that recent British export known as shock art. His work is about sensation and sensationalism, it speaks in hit rates and is part, flirtation with criminality, part marketing and public relations savvy and part recycling of art ideas of the last century. 


The work that catapulted Banksy to media attention is a reworking of a 30 + year old art as rebellion piece by Iranian bad boy artist turned art advisor turned Gallery owner/art dealer Tony Shafrazi. He spray-painted the words "KILL LIES ALL" in red enamel on Picasso's 1938 masterpiece Guernica then installed in New York's Museum of Modern Art in a work made in 1974, predates the boom of the graffiti movement. Shafrazi tipped off the New York Times and other local newspapers before he committed this infamous act of vandalism on modern art. Poetically later in his second or third life as art dealer, Tony Shafrazi was the main mainstream gallerist to champion the artists of the Graffiti movement and those big names of the 1980's whose work has something to do with Graffiti Haring, Basquiat  and Sharf. He historically mounted the Warhol Basquiat collaborative exhibition at his gallery when both still lived.


Banksy's version was to leave a framed original of one of his own paintings in the Tate collection complete with a wall caption. He camouflaged his own work into the work of the establishment, doing what many British artists dream of: having their work installed in the Tate. Perhaps his act was more generous, leaving one of his own works behind rather than being an angry young man, defacing the work of a prior generation. Or in these days of heightened security and terror alerts defacing million dollar artworks in public collection in the name of "art" is a very risky proposition potentially very legally damaging. Banksy is able some how to appear like he is doing something altogether radical new and unheard of by inserting his work in the museum, how ever this radical stance morphs into a calculated pose when Banksy anonymous British street artist remembers to have a friend shadow him in the Tate with a video camera as he places the work on a wall. A great PR move by an international artist of mystery. More on this later...


The Identity of artist Banksy is not publicly known. Banksy's debut at the start of the film is a view of the artist in a black hooded sweatshirt in a darkened claustrophobic chaotic space some forsaken corner of the artists rambling studio. He speaks to us with a voice that has been cloaked and distorted in post production, his face obscured and pixellated as if he were in the witness protection program and recounting his days in the employ of a notorious mobster. These are the familiar sings that are present in his portrayal these are code for or reinforce his renegade stature. Not only are they emblematic in this way, they are symbolic for the fact that Banksy who ever he is possesses the wherewithal to preserve the secret of his own identity.


Narrator Banksy steers the audience immediately on a false goose chase telling them that the film they are about to watch is about some one else a character far more interesting than himself.  Cut to sunny Los Angeles California where the spectator is introduced to Thierry Guetta, a Frenchman who sells used clothing dubbing it Vintage. He is the pioneer of the vintage clothing retail business, buying old clothing in bulk for a song cleaning it an displaying it in a chic environ and marking each item up for his trouble of finding it and determining that its still trendy or original Mr. Guetta is a highly creative person, he emits creativity in his flair for categorizing classifying and labeling that which society overlooks, old clothing, and displays the Midas touch turning loads of other peoples garbage into a more than modest livelihood for a family. 


This in itself is amusing but it is merely the back story of Thierry Guetta. Enter the consumer video camera. The French family man in California becomes obsessed with documenting everything. He is reliving the "I am machine eye" moment of Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov had back in the 1920's with his Kino Pravda "cinema of the Truth" but right now in the time of late capitalism. His recording is a compulsion with out focus or pretension, he is an autodidact or outsider video artist in the truest scene, for he did not attend art school and he has no knowledge of his compatriot and also obsessive videographer Michel Auder, who created a similar selfportriat documentary titled The Feature 2008, out of the unscripted footage he shot of his own life for years.  Mr. Guetta's video output is one initiated without some future goal of an art project or product. It is a cathartic endeavour of obsessive scope where he exorcises the demons of his childhood in adult life with the aid of consumer video cameras and hundreds if not thousands of videotapes.


Then one summer after years of obsessive video recording Thierry Guetta meets a cousin of his on holiday in France, his cousin happens to be known as Space Invader, an active member in a burgeoning yet still under the radar movement known as street art. Guetta Becomes enthralled by the process of going out late at night to do illegal acts of installing street art in public places, he finds a locus a what to record and document, and he becomes hooked trying to meet follow and record as many street artists as he can.


Street art as it is called is by in large Graffiti by art school alumni. Street artists are not teenagers from the inner city. They are not tagging per say like Taki 183 Who Norman Mailer wrote about In his 1973 classic The faith of Graffiti, the Ur graffiti tagger in New York City. Taki 183 was writing his name and the street he came from over and over where ever he could sparking a brief proto graffiti craze in NYC.  Street Art is not about "bombing" the act of spray-painting on the side of a subway train car or side of a highly visible urban billboard. It seems that Street artists are more mutually supportive of each other than Graffittists are. Street artists are not destroying the work of other street artists, nor are they writing the word "Toy" over the work of another street artist in an effort to create some kind of a territorial feud.


Art on the street, it is not limited to spray paint on whatever and bound as some kind of a pillar in the hip hop sub culture movement, rather its practitioners tend to be a little bit older, a bit more international, more obsessive and aware of the documentation of their ephemeral creations and re investigate more arcane and unpopular methods of art creation, that of the mosaic, the stencil, the placard, the silhouette and intricately cut paper. Many work of street artists is an extension of the punk subculture pop art and most are a deliberate display of a facility with elements of drawing and graphic design. An imaginary street artist manifesto might read something like this "I am an artisan who is rouge and sharing my super crafted art objects with the plebeians who never attend contemporary art exhibitions. I the crafts person elect to insert my work on the street illegally because it its cool and democratic and I am addicted to a cheap thrill, also because I am re framing the discourse of the art being made today. I choose to fly my works out in the public first instead of waiting for some conservative gallery representation to expose, discover and validate my art practice, in other words I am D.I.Y. and short circuiting the system"


One of the first Street artist that Thierry Guetta documented after retuning to Los Angeles from the fate-full summer Holiday in France was the then cult hero street artist "Obey" or Shepard Fairey. The documentation began when the Frenchman with his video camera found Shepard and wife Amanda busy at work in a Kinko's copy-shop in L.A.  Xeroxing and cutting out large "obey" Placards that Mr. Fairy developed from a photograph of the late wrestler turned actor Andre the Giant and the word 'Obey'. This first meeting showing the artist hard at work on his knees years before his auction sales, museum retrospective at the Boston museum of modern art and the Iconic Obama Hope Poster that Mr. Fairy made from an 'appropriated' associated press photograph in 2008 which to this day is the reason behind a lawsuit on the artist. Mr. Guetta Then began a friendship with this artist that cast him in the double role of Videographer and lookout.


Much of the rest of the film elucidates how the Frenchman evolved from a video camera obsessed individual to a street artist appropriationist and copycat himself. Yet is also functions as a strong propaganda for Banksy, in that the Frenchman is unable to find Banksy and film the mythical and mysterious Banksy at work when every other street artist has made themselves available to him. The propaganda machine continues with a mini retrospective in video form of the highlights of Banksy. A work at the famous wall in Gaza a stunning collision of media savvy, preparation and poetic illustrations, images of children breaking through the wall or transversing the barrier in some other way i.e. the girl in a dress holding balloons. Banksy it seems is the first artist to mount a one-person exhibition in less than an hour under gunpoint.  There is a studio visit where Banksy shows the Frenchman and his video camera the making of a steel un-commissioned public sculpture, his spacious duplex workplace digs some where in London and the hidden illicit treasures of one million pounds sterling that Banksy and his team forged with the likeness of the late lady Diana instead of the queen of England on the Banknote. Banksy explains that he could go to jail for ten years for forging that money and that is why he likes to keep it hidden in boxes in a closet on the second floor of his studio, so he can occasionally show it to his friends with video cameras who say they are making documentaries about the street art movement.


I wont spoil the ending of the film that I might add is shot on video contributing to the prevalent do-it-yourself aesthetic. Its ending is almost moralistic, as if this documentary is a cautionary tale of just what the powers of addiction, obsession misguided creativity, marketing, hype, money, a staff of art school educated freelancers in Los Angeles can do. It poses the question what makes an artist original or good or an artist at all. Exit Through the Gift Shop shows what lengths some self styled artists are willing to go to in this results driven era. One were sales and market success and selling in mega high volume at ones debut exhibition are the instruments by which one measures ones self. It also parodies and puns market success, and the tiered dilemma of copy cat artists who are able to make it big and sell a lot of work really fast. Yes it puns this phenomena but I feel it offers not critique thereof, it remains another heroic saga in a myth which fetischizes fame and recognition, eclipsing the art objects. But the objects of Street Art highly crafted and strategically placed are ephemeral objects designed primarily as propaganda with transgressive content. Adverts where the product is one not readily consumed. Most passerby who see a Banksy work in public can only afford to buy his catalogue: Banksy "Wall and Piece", the same is true for an artist like Shepard Fairey. I find street art works to be categorically subverted advertisements, that function in my mind primarily for either promotion of the individual artist or the creative process in general. by craniv boyd ©    

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