My wife went to CO to see her sister for a couple of days which means that I watched some documentaries. Yes, I rock that hard. One movie that I had wanted to see for quite a while and finally had the chance to watch was Exit Through The Gift Shop.
In case you haven’t seen it, it’s basically the story of Thierry Guetta, a Frenchman who video-tapes nearly every moment of his life. He hooks up with his cousin who is a “street artist” going by the name “Space Invader.” He basically places tile mosaics inspired by the video game Space Invaders on buildings, in public spaces, etc. Fascinated by this new, exciting and illegal world of “street art,” Guetta dives head-long, following Invader in his exploits. Invader introduces him to several of the scene’s “stars” including Shephard Fairey (yes, the guy beind “Obey” and the iconic Obama “Hope” poster) and finally, the elusive Banksy.
If you’re not hip to the jive, Banksy is an internationally known “street artists” whose iconic style often includes stenciled black and white figures accompanied by a saying. Highly political, Banksy’s identity has ben a closely guarded secret. Guetta makes himself and his (apparent) considerable resources available and gains unheard of access to Banksy.
But there’s a problem; Guetta is not a film-maker, just a filmer. He has no intention of ability to turn all of his hours of footage into a watchable movie. Banksy, realizing this, turns the table in a scenario in which the lines between fiction and reality, forcing us to consider what is or isn’t actually “art.” Banksy takes over the movie, thus guaranteeing himself not only artistic control but continued anonymity. He decides to take Guetta and move him from voyeur to “street artist” himself and, thus, “Mr. Brain Wash” (or “MBW”) is born. Guetta begins making his own marks on the streets and even launches an art show.
And, while it seems that Guetta fancies himself an actual artist, he is actually a pawn in Banksy’s scheme to challenge and question the entire “art establishment.” Banksy seems to be using MBW as a real-life art piece. In fact, many people believe that the entire affair was simply Banksy putting flesh and bones to this piece (yes, there is a “bad word” in the image).
The whole thing reminds one of Andy Kaufman and forces us (at Banksy’s will) to consider the question: what is or isn’t “art”? Can a ruse selling derivative paintings by a henceforth unknown “artist” for thousands of dollars be considered art? Is graffiti art? If so, is there a line between simple “tagging” and actual “street art.” Is music “art”? How do you know? Can something be “art” to one person but not another?
This is really part of the issue, isn’t it? “Art” does not seem to have a satisfactory definition. Applied human creativity? Tangible imagination? Does it always have to have a “point”? As a Christian, these are things I think about quite often. After all, Christians have the most to celebrate and yet we seem to make some of the most mediocre “art” out there. We not only have the most to celebrate the least to fear. Our identity is secure, so we should be the most adventurous.
The very fact that the film is labeled as “A Banksy Film” and Guetta becomes “Mr. Brain Wash” should alert us to the fact that Banksy is not only behind the film but making some pretty specific points and that’s what’s so fascinating about the movie. I don’t really have a specific point here other than to ponder aloud what is or isn’t art? Does that make this piece art?
Watch the trailer for Exit Through The Gift Shop::