Contemporary Narratives - Photography: A Short Guide to History, Theory, and Practice: Online Course Starting April 27th 2022
Sign up to my new series of talks on Contemporary Narratives - Photography: A Short Guide to History, Theory, and Practice . Starts on Ap...
Monday, 15 March 2010
Banksy and Brainwash
I haven't seen Banksy's film, Exit Through the Gift Shop yet (I babysat so others could see it) but that won't stop a blog post on the film and it's main character, Mr Brainwash - a mad film maker and graffiti obsessive who suddenly starts making his own work and becomes a massive success..
There are all kinds of manipulations at work here, so not seeing the film is probably an advantage in trying to untie the threads of deceit Banksy weaves. He seems to want to encourage the idea that Mr Brainwash, aka Thierry Guetta (perhaps) is at least partially a figment of the Banksy imagination, an idea he has foisted on the art world and fed on the internet through evasion and ambiguity.
Issues of identity, authority, authorship, ownership, marketing, finance, celebrity, information, the internet, idleness and hype are apparent in the work of Banksy and Mr Brainwash. Is Brainwash real (is Banksy real), did he create the work (we know, or we are supposed to understand that Mr Brainwash's work is created by a band of screen-print art-monkeys), how much is Banksy involved, is he Banksy.
The work is uh-yes-and-no to all of them. We don't know, we have no way of knowing, but perhaps that doesn't matter, because Banksy has us all jumping through hoops trying to know. All this guessing is part of his grand Duchampian thought experiment - in which case the work might have value. But what if it's not - then does it have value? What is the work anyway? Is it the Brainwash prints or the totality of which they are part? I don't know. Do you?
The very idea that we are thinking about these questions, possibly gives Brainwash value and makes it part of our discussion and understanding of art, where it comes from and its value; and the nature of value. I don't think the Brainwash prints should have any financial value, but they do have a philosophical one as part of the grand Banksy project. Or even not as part of a grand Banksy project. Smoke and mirrors wrapped in a name that disguises nothing. Brainwash? Come on?
There is little information on the internet about either Mr Brainwash or Thierry Guetta - the best thing is this interview in the Times. Here are some excerpts.
"If the film was intended as a satire on the superficiality of the contemporary art scene, the satire was going over the heads of the buyers forking out $50,000 to $200,000 a canvas. “It doesn’t matter if he is good or bad,” one said. “He has the right connections, and that’s why I am buying. Plus, I like him.”
“People want to know: am I real? Am I joking? Am I Banksy? Is it a whole joke by Banksy? But the more they see me the more it becomes real to them. It would ’ave to be a big, big joke. Who would do it? Who would ’ire all these people?”
He’s quite open about the fact that he doesn’t construct the work himself. “There might be 20 people in my bus but I am the driver,” he says. “I am the one who say ‘stop’. I am the one who say ‘I don’t like it’. I am the one who say ‘the face is not right’. I am the one who say ‘I want this like that’.” When the work is done he embeds dollar bills and sometimes drops of his own blood into the work to authenticate them. “For the people in me who believe I do it 100 per cent,” he says, pointing to a wall of portraits down which a can of paint has been slopped. “You see this? I did this yesterday. Drop some paint down that wall. I felt like the painting was nothing, so dropping some paint it become something, something artistic, something street . . .”
If the whole stunt was intended as a joke about art and authenticity — a twist on the old “a monkey could do it” line — it appears to have far exceeded its maker’s intentions. Shrouded in shadow, Banky ends the documentary wondering if he did the right thing launching Mr Brainwash on the world. “Andy Warhol was replicating images to show they were meaningless,” he says. “And now, thanks to Mr Brainwash, they’re definitely meaningless.”
Ultimately if the art world really is so supercial, Banksy and should get on with doing something better with his life. Instead Banksy states the bleeding obvious, telling us things we know already or should know already. Which is what Richard Hamilton did, what all the best artists do.
So in the end, you do see Mr Brainwash and think, I could do that. And you get onto photoshop and mess with the curves and hue. And end up with something a monkey really could do. As you can see from my efforts above, Mr Brainwash has nothing to fear. But if I spend another 10 minutes and work out how to use that mask thingy.....