Through the Gift Shop, and What Banksy Saw There

Good people gave me a hint to watch Exit Through the Gift Shop, a very interesting movie from Banksy Film; it’s a very entertaining and funny piece, but also an excellent case of social research by art; a performative anthropology, if you wish.

There are plenty of trailers on the web and, I guess, you also easily find the movie via the torrents; but I should advise you to buy an official DVD, even if for the fact of its high collector value in the (near) future.

I still didn’t figure out how to hide a piece of the text here; apparently my style doesn’t allow it without a special widget (which I didn’t install), so the warning – some SPOILERS ahead! Stop reading if you don’t want to know!

From the first glance, it is a story about street-art, and more specifically about the very elite of this business – Banksy, Shepard Fairey etc. The movie is presented as a narration of, and about some Thierry Guetta: a frenchman who came to the US, became, besides other things, an amateur video maker (passionate, even addicted), got familiar with a whole street art movement, then gradually got fully involved into, made tons of the films about this art form, and eventually becomes one of its crucial figures. At some point Thierry evolves into a street artist himself (under the nickname MBW, Mr.BrainWash), and later transforms into a REAL contemporary artist, a bright raising star, with famous exhibitions and multi-million sales.

It’s interesting that his own art (or ‘art’, some would say) is the very example of the art-remaking I was writing about in this blog just yesterday! quite a coincidence (or may be it’s ‘in the air’) !

But the truth is that movie is in fact not ‘about’ – whether it’s about Thierry, or about Banksy, or about street-art. It is ITSELF an art-project, a fantastic imaginary world, ironically enacting and mocking the contemporary (street) art scenery. There is a lot of ‘true facts’ in it and real footage, but there are also tons of media cliches and social stereotypes, embedded and re-mixed in an enchanting, self-referential cocktail. What a grand simulacrum!

Interestingly enough, Wikipedia is totally confused with how to write about this whole story. In the article about Thierry Guetta (aka Mr. BrainWash) he is described as a real figure, yet in the comments people are fighting to state that the whole story is a hoax (well, may be an art-hoax, but still a hoax), and that he is to be referred as a fiction, a fictional figure. Some sentences are just superb!

– “I removed the part addressing him as a fictional character. I have my suspicions about the film’s reality as well, but there is not enough evidence to flat out pronounce the guy a fictional character. These proclamations need to be based on evidence, not suspicions.”

– “That makes no sense! You have to have evidence a person is real before you can claim they are, not the opposite!”

These days if someone says something, it becomes Some Thing (especially if this thing has a http://www.SomeThing.com !)

The ending quote of the movie, by Shepard Fairey, are the words of gold wisdom: “This phenomena is very interesting, from anthropological, and sociological point of view; by studying it we would learn a lot about modern art, and our society in general”.

The most interesting part here is what would you place under ‘this phenomena’.

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