Thursday, May 19, 2011

Irksome. Banksy, Me and Everybody (spoiler)

I discovered him a couple of years ago, when we vacationed in Bristol.
It was love at first sight.
There happened to be an exhibit at the Bristol City Museum. We didn’t see the exhibit, only the lines stretching for blocks of people who were already showing signs of post traumatic stress disorder just from waiting so long. We had seen enough traces of his work around town tho, Bristol being Banksy’s Ur, that I knew I needed more. Now I wish we had just given our kids over to juvenile detention for the day and gone to the exhibit. So, what I didn’t have to do in Bristol, I got to do last night: “Exit Through The Gift Shop,” Banksy’s documentary film debut.
It was irritating.
Nails on the chalkboard stuff.

It took me a while to get behind what it was. What was the film about anyway? Was it asking what was once a standard high-school philosophy question, “What is art?”
No, that wasn’t it.
Closer would be, “Who counts as an Artist?”
But for someone who has been telling people for the last couple of years, that EVERYONE is an Artist, I was overly irritated by the unforeseen twist in this movie.

The film is not actually about Banksy, but about Thierry Guetta, a small, eccentric Frenchman with a filming addiction, who seems to be making a movie about Banksy and a number of other semi-criminals. He follows and films and “assists” Banksy and these street artists the world over for years, but when it becomes clear that Guetta is a borderline “Messy,” and doesn’t know the first thing about film making, Banksy turns the tables, and tells Guetta to handover his enormous collection of tapes (tapes Thierry has never even watched himself), and go do his own artwork for a while. Having “apprenticed” with the Space Invader, Shepard Fairey, Andre, Borf and Buffmonster, Guetta begins to follow their lead. He first creates an image for himself, or rather has someone else do it, and begins posting it in all shapes and sizes around LA as Mr. Brainwash. He then hires a team, sets up a large warehouse, and begins crankin’ out (or rather, has his team of Artists crank out) an Andy Warhol - Banksy mashup of pop-culture Ikons. At the climax of the film, Thie… um Mr. Brainwash gets in way over his head, when he wants to make a big, no, huge splash on the LA scene with a debut exhibit… Everything looks as though it is leading up to the ultimate belly-flop, until the doors open and people start pouring in by the thousands and money pours in by the Millions! It is insane.

I was irritated.
Banksy is obviously irritated.
Shepard Fairey is obviously irritated.
Even the people who were hired to set up his exhibit were pissed (I’ve worked for a psycho Frenchman before, so believe me, I know what they were going thru!).
But it also appears they can’t really put into words, what it is that bugs them so much.
Was he a copy cat? A poser? A wanna be?
Or a successful apprentice, who they hadn’t realized was apprenticing?
With no real artistic mastery of his own, he hired skilled artist to carry out his artistic direction. He seemed to have stumbled more onto a recipe than a message. So, in a way, it’s like he had stolen the answer sheet, crammed for the exam the next day and gotten an “A”, while the other guys slugged it out through the years old school style… with mastery, skill, meaning and depth.
But it still takes a kind of genius to pull off what Guetta pulled off; why do we allow him his piece of the pie so begrudgingly?
Just before falling asleep, I realized what it was that irritated me so much, and might have irritated Banksy, what it was that the film reminded me of, that feeling it was tapping into.

Thanks to facebook and the internet, I have reconnected with or been updated on people from just about every chapter of my life… and there have been many chapters: Ever so therapeutic. Several months ago, when I had slowed down long enough to listen to my own heart beat and opened up space there for new perspectives to grow, I became intensely aware of a deep truth. Of all the mean and nasty and terrible things I have thought and done in my life… more than running over a cat while driving before I got my license, more than getting busted, dropping out of school, getting kicked out of the house, puking my guts out at keg parties, or peeing in alley ways; more than cheating, lying, stealing and yelling at my kids,… the thing I regret the most, and will, on my death bed, regret more than anything else,
is a life time of underestimating people.
Time and time again, with each new “friend” request from a ghost of the past, seeing where people had gone, what had become of them, how they too had “grown up,” I became aware of what a small box I had up until that moment kept them in…what limited expectations I have for so many; how quickly I size people up and arrange them in a small corner of the world stage, never expecting them to be called out for an encore. Knowing myself the pain of being shoved to the back of the choir and not being expected to ever give a solo, makes this trait in me even more regrettable.

So, tossing from side to side, trying to wrestle this movie out of my head so I could get at least a few hours of sleep, I finally made the connection: The irksome aspect of Thierry Guetta or mbw, was that, in his quirky, sideways, clumsy way, this funny frenchman surpassed everyone’s expectations.
He became a huge success, and no one saw it coming!
How dare he!
How irritating it is, when we are sure someone isn’t playing with a full deck, and they end up winning the pot, because, as it turns out, they have an Ace up their sleeve!

I have been trying to allow other people’s stories to remain open-ended. I have been reminding myself, that there is usually more than meets the eye, and that anyone of the various people criss-crossing my life has every chance in the world of exceeding my amateur estimation of them. But my annoyance at watching Guetta, poised for a belly flop, succeed in doing a swan dive, shows me, that I better keep working on it until I make that final “exit through the gift shop.”


Jan Fischer said...

ah, i love this post.

Andrew J. Hill said... the honesty of death bed regret... an all too common mistake that I myself have made many, many times.

Thanks for such a thought provoking reflection ~ Andy