Search results for "banksy "

Banksy and the institution

Author: joe

Sunday, 19 July, 2009 - 23:01

I know there is something in the Banksy exhibition at the Bristol City Museum that I have missed: some act of vandalism and subversion that I was not subtle enough to find, some artistic whim, antithetical to the institution of art, that was too discrete to find. The archetypal 'art terrorist' has committed some act of treason in the museum, somewhere, somehow, that none of us has found: I feel strangely comforted by the certain knowledge that there is something shocking, unsupportable, and offensive lurking in the gallery.

More illegal than a small piece of skunk next to an ornate bong amongst the pottery; more irreverent than puppet eyes on a Rembrandt self-portrait; more institutionally insulting than a riot policeman on a child's penny-powered rocking-horse-ride; more clever than a suitcase of Diana-head-minted currency in £1000-bundles; more knowing of our day-to-day lives than bird-on-the-wire CCTV cameras and self-vivisecting rabbit coquettes. Something so unseeable, so invisible, so appalling, that none us of can see it. Even if we saw it, our brains would scramble the sight with its cognitive dissonance, such that we'd walk away, unknowing, and no wiser.

I am utterly certain it is there - through a process of unimpeachable logical deduction, I know for a fact that Banksy has beaten us all. The logic is borne out by the history of his career and the evidence of his work. I defy you to find the flaw in my argument.

Banksy starts as a graffiti artist; then moves on to guerilla subversion of mainstream art works; paints murals on the Israeli West Bank barrier. Next Banksy replaces the music stores' display stock of Paris Hilton CDs with fakes; and then places Guantanamo-prisoner-alikes in Disneyland - all of these acts are 'transgressive' in that they offend a good proportion of conservative taste, and are to be celebrated for that reason even if nothing else of the work excites you.

Graffiti is a transgressive because, well, you're not supposed to deface public property: it is, as Bristol Museum puts it, a "form of illegal activity, regardless of its artistic merit." When it is encouraged and sponsored by local councils, it loses any dangerous edge it had, and becomes - at best - wholesome, at worst, limp and insipid community outreach as practised by Christians and others of equally atrophied musculature. Graffiti is at its most aggressive and pure only when it is sure to be erased at the first opportunity by the police of public space, just as action is pure only when it escapes all intellectual justification and argument.

Surreptitiously defacing artworks in public museums and galleries is transgressive because it is an attack on the only possible institution which might redeem the graffiti artist from the clutches of the law, by granting such 'art terrorists' legitimacy; it is a biting of the only pompous, self-satisfied hand that would deign to feed you, just as that hand realises it must recognise you in order to stay relevant. 'Subverting artworks' is transgressive because it is a rebellion against the law of the father; an act of the carnivalesque turning an ossified world on its head.

The political muralism on the West Bank barrier, quite aside from its UK-specific resonance with the 'civil war by any other name' of The Troubles of Northern Ireland, is transgressive because it challenges our bourgeois notion that citizens and artists and painters and hoodies and members of the public have no say, no recourse to action - no escape from Ulrich Beck's characterisation of tragic quotidianism - and hence no action to take, in the face of geo-political calamities; yet at the same time underscores the alien inability of any artist or other member of the Western demos to speak to an open ear of either aggressor or victim. The Israeli wall is the target, but it is the Palestinian bystander who condemns the act of beauty on a terrible medium. A voice where no voice can have effect, nor find a listener.

Subverting the music retail market's obsession with celebrity is transgressive not because it reminds us that Capital is the great Other that dialectically determines our lives, nor that the industry is the instrument of the superhuman machine or the body-without-organs, nor even that the market is the means by which the mass is kept in obeisance to a superstructure of the hegemony. In fact it is the reverse - it mocks the Marxists by reminding us that the act of rebellion generates more value than the cultural commodity: Banksy's fake Paris Hilton knock-off is far more valuable in both material and immaterial terms than any original: the fake is now the only authentic artefact. Adorno, eat your heart out!

Populating Disneyland with Guantanamo-jumpsuited-inflatable-dolls is transgressive because - (as if it needed pointing out!) - aside from the dissonance of imperialism, hypocrisy, war-mongering and injustice that it spotlights, it reminds us that Disneyland and the objectives of the 'coalition of the willing' are essentially the same, after the killing and the brutalisation are done: to displace living from the realm of experience, into the realm of representation. Thus we enjoy the vicarious ride-of-our-lives via the hyperreal news media, assured that if there are victims of hypocrisy and torture in the world, then our own lives must be at the very forefront of progress, luxury and guilt-ridden complacency - the only kind of guilt we allow ourselves to guiltlessly enjoy.

And so of course, I look for the transcendental transgression in Banksy's show at Bristol Museum, suggestively titled Banksy vs Bristol Museum, like a competition - which I interpret as an arms race... a competition to outwit each other; the disclaimers warn as we enter that views expressed are not those of the museum or its partners, and the defacements on display are not real defacements, since "some of the historic relics now on display throughout the museum are fakes". Such framing devices only heighten my expectation that we will find Banksy sock-puppeting the museum into condoning opinions that would otherwise be silenced, and that real, priceless works have been defaced by a Bristolian 'revolutionaire' as only a decadent world deserves to have its valued artefacts defaced.

Or I consider, that since this exhibition has been organised, as the disclaimers proclaim, "by an independent agency", thus the Museum have themselves been subject to the same suspicions as I have entertained, and so will have been expecting Banksy's representatives to hijack the best intentions of the museum's curators; and in turn this agency acting on behalf of Banksy will have been expecting the museum to hunt high and low for any infringements or transgressions. Any act by Banksy to subvert the permanent art, or to render illegal the public space, or to articulate the unendorseable, will have been anticipated; the building combed for booby-traps; any attempt to outwit the strictures of public bylaws and the good taste of the artistic institutional community forestalled and anaesthetised. The anticipations are anticipated; the foreseeings foreseen; the special operations specially operated upon. The each outwitting the other in an ever-contracting spiral of mutual suspicion and cold-war-style conspiracy and paranoia, resulting in the most cutting edge out-manoeuvrings imaginable.

Then, of course: I get it. There is no hidden act of subversion; nothing too unbearable we cannot acknowledge it; nothing so clever we kick ourselves in our credulousness. I finally realise that the ultimate trangression has been successfully mounted: Banksy has defeated my intellectualisation of his work. He has easily capitulated, with paranormally little effort, to a parochial museum, home to ceramics, pottery and geological oddities. He has performed the ultimate transgression of the outsider artist: by selling out - a complete triumph. He has tricked me into romanticising his career and my search for the ultimate meaning in a museum. This is the something that is shocking, unsupportable, and offensive lurking in the gallery - it is the last word in resistance: to resist the pundits; and the last word in not selling out: selling out.

Categories: Banksy, art, graffiti, resistance, over-intellectualisation, transgression,
Comments: 0