I finally saw Banksy‘s film Exit through the Giftshop, now on show in only one London cinema. Glad I made it to the big screen before it becomes just another DVD.
It is really a good watch – tons of fun! I love the amusing turn of events that mess around with your preconceived ideas of who is the protagonist. At first, your wishes are granted and you get lots of footage of street artists at work, and you naturally expect plenty more footage on Banksy for the main part of the film. But before I tell you what happens, I have to put Banksy on pause, to digress about Swoon, one of the street artists at work in the first part of the film, and the only female one. Swoon, as coincidence would have it, is currently featured prominently in this month’s Art News magazine, for her ‘sailing’ artspedition.
I first came across her work in an exhibition in Village Underground, East London, last year (pictured). The Thousands was the mysterious title given to the week-short show by the very young curator. 18 year old RJ Rushmore was kind enough to give me an hour of his time to tell me about the stunningly well-light display of street art from around the world in the not-so-underground, superb space. Rushmore is a collector of Swoon and of other figureheads of street art, and some of the artworks in the exhibition were of his collection. He knows these artists first hand, from his childhood days hanging out in both London and New York, encountering the artists at work in teenage infested wastelands and alleyways. They way he told me about it all, I’m guessing that he started collecting with little cash, whereas as we see in the film, street art is now big bucks. Moral: it’s good not to be metrowealthy and grow up in plush, cleansed neighbourhoods, if the vandalism you would otherwise encounter can be turned into gold – and celebrity status. My hat off to the teenage curator/collector for utilising his life experiences to his advantage. And my hat off to Swoon for her skilfully crafted cut-outs and paste ups. She’s worth keeping an eye on.
As for Banksy, he is very clever, as well as skilled. His Guantamo Bay interventions in Disneyland are as funny as the reactions of the Mickeyguards when they discover them. See him also transform a beautiful red phonebox into an equally beautiful, and humorous, sculpture, with meaning appropriated by BT… (if, like me, you’re into red telephone boxes, check out David Mach’s sculpture in Kingston-upon-Thames).
After this exhilarating spur of live artmaking (including -and yes, I disapprove- a live, painted elephant) the way Banksy turns the film around, (by way of ‘revenge’?) is better than fiction. The cameraman and the street artist swap places, and the unexpected outcome brings about a sad-but-hilarious real-life take on the art world. Possible ponderings revolve around the power of money, of advertising, of using your friends because the ends justify the means, of the American dream, of madness or of sheer willpower. Definitely lots to think about, but smiling most of the time. Respect!
P.S.: A really interesting piece of research on the legal quandaries implicit in graffiti:
Tomasz Rychlicki, ‘Legal questions about illegal art,’ Journal of Intellectual Property Law & Practice (Vol. 3, No. 6, 2008) pp. 393-401