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Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

Banksy’s Exit Through The Gift Shop


Banksy “I can’t believe you morons actually buy this shit” at the free exhibition of his work in Covent Garden, originally uploaded by pomphorhynchus.
I caught a screening of Exit Through The Gift Shop, Banksy’s feature-length film, last night, and, like most things related to the mysterious artist, it manages to zig around expectations and get to mind-twisting territory quickly.

There are probably a few spoilers in here, or not. Read at your peril.

Plot-wise, the movie mostly stars a Frenchman named Thierry Guetta. Thierry becomes obsessed with chronicling things via video, and fixates on street artists, adoring of the danger and spontaneity.

Thierry is clearly obsessed and mentally unbalanced, but in that endearing Man On Wire, French way. His marriage miraculously stays intact while he follows Shepherd Fairey across the globe, plowing through thousands of tapes–ostensibly, to the artists, for a documentary–which fill dozens and dozens of boxes in his house.

Theirry’s camera eventually, after much pursuit, intercepts Banksy, and several close scrapes bring the two together, as friends. Theirry gets comfortable in Banksy’s inner sanctum. Only in this short section do we get to see the artist working; otherwise he narrates in hood, face obscured, with robo voice. Scenes from his studio are really interesting; at one point he takes Theirry to his attic and shows him boxes of £10 bills, with Lady Di’s face printed on them, and explains how they printed £1,000,000 worth and have been passing them to vendors at festivals.1

At various points in the film, the question of whether Thierry is real or not came to mind. It seemed, thematically, that his obsession with videotaping everything melds perfectly with the themes of surveillance and voyeurism prevailing in Banksy’s work. But the dating of the footage appears to have been too elaborate to fake. Fairey looks younger, wearing baggy, of-the-era late ’90s clothes in footage purported to be from that era. Speaking with a few people more familiar than I, it’s true, he’s a real guy. Guetta’s character, though, is so surreal and outlandishly appropriate to the subject matter, that what happens next is completely conceptually seamless to the point where the rational mind rebels.

Banksy asks Theirry to show him his film, Life Remote Control, and, surprise, the final product of his insanity and obsession is intolerable. You can watch a few bits of it here.

So Banksy decides to make the movie about Thierry, and, in the meanwhiles, tells Thierry, who has been experimenting with stickers and wheatpasting, to do an art show–and Thierry dubs himself Mr. Brainwash.

Given this mandate by his hero, Thierry can’t help but make it massive: he puts his life in hock (supposedly) and hires a team to create art (a style-less mish-mash of Fairey, Banksy and Andy Warhol) and leverages endorsements from Fairey and Banksy to get the punters (Fairey calls them suckers, which is maybe more appropriate) out and buying.

And they do. His Life is Beautiful show sells a million dollars in product and runs for months (I wasn’t able to independently verify
this). Theirry is an art star, and has had a subsequent show here in New York in February.

And there we have it. But what do we have? Well, the great street art swindle. Like John Lydon said, ‘Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?’

The Sex Pistols did it first. The KLF wrote The Manual on how to do it. Now Banksy is doing it: creating a story to spur demand, lending authority to it in a rapidly popularizing subculture, satisfying the hunger and laughing while everyone eats it up.

It is almost a performance edition of the piece pictured above.

Thierry’s the ultimate idolator, a King Toy of the graf world, but in an endearing, ‘let me hold the ladder and learn to do it’ savant-ish sense rather than cynical or ill-meaning way.

In him, Banksy has a tool to make us aware of our desire to belong and understand, nudging him forward, enabling his rise, only to gloat over the result. The art fans, clad in Ed Hardy, lined the sidewalk to see Life is Beautiful and take home a piece. But once everyone catches on to the gag, what happens to the work? And Thierry’s (clearly unbalanced) ego? If Banksy was affiliated, does that mean it has value (in an artistic or financial sense)?

Banksy is certainly a fascinating character, and this film will raise more interesting discussion on the nature of art in our times. But as opposed to his pieces on the wall in Gaza, indicting a system of oppression and bringing power and hope and positive messages to the world, and the Disneyland incident (which is explained in harrowing detail in the film) it feels like there’s been a turn in Banksy’s work toward the cynical.

Here, in helping make Mr. Brainwash into something of a star, he’s turned to lampooning the general public, ordinary people whose minds have been opened to the sort of surprise and wonder great street art fosters.

The film is out April 16 in the States, and if you’re interested in the culture of street art and image-making in cultural affairs I’d recommend you seek it out.

Animal New York has a post revealing some Fairey admissions, and that throws up a few good rumors and explanations about Theirry owning property and having family connections that let him do legal graffiti. It’s worth a look.

  1. I think this is a crime, counterfeiting, and admitting to it on film, with the evidence, would be trouble, at least in law-abiding Britain. Which makes me think its not entirely true. []

Written by Nick

April 7th, 2010 at 12:24 pm

Posted in Advertising,Art

An update from Caroll Taveras

Photographer Caroll Taveras emailed the other day with some end-of-project news from her Photo Studio project, which you may remember from our visit this winter. Selections are online, and there’s a book in the works, and, according to Caroll, she’s going to be bringing cheap (but great!) portraiture to more cities. Stay tuned!

(ps., turns out, as you can see above, I made the website, alongside Stefan Ruiz, a photographer and briefly creative director of the iconic magazine Colors.)

(pps. In other eminent Brooklynite news, Jim Hanas, my predecessor at Creativity/AdCritic, has a nifty full-pager explaining why you’ll never be famous in the Post today. The story is based on a talk Jim recently gave at his lecture series, Adult Ed, which I have shamefully yet to attend. Congrats, Jim–if they didn’t tell you about the perks, by dint of the Post filing you in the Opinion/Op-Ed columnist bin you’ve earned a one-year trial membership to the John Birch Society and a 2010 copy of G. Gordon Liddy’s ‘Stacked and Packed’ calendar.1

  1. I kid, but while working on the desk at the Post I got into a protracted phone conversation with one of Liddy’s radio producers that called for some esoteric sports stats and he sent an autographed, dedicated copy of the calendar to me at the paper in thanks. I put it in my mail cubby to take home later, as I was due at the bar that night and didn’t have safe transport, but the next day it was gone. []

Written by Nick

July 26th, 2009 at 1:06 pm

Posted in Art,Books,Events

Augmented Reality: More than a Fad

As we approached our CaT: Creativity and Technology event last week (which went swimmingly, thanks for asking) I began to think more and more about the prevalance of augmented reality in the panels and presentations that we were putting on. AR, along with data visualization, was one of the day’s most discussed topics; at least four of the presenters on the agenda spoke of the technique.

We had a few practitioners together, so I wanted to ask them what I’m sure many attendees were thinking: Is this a fad, or what? I’ve seen the rumblings and mutterings to the same effect, and a post today by Iain at Crackunit is prompting even more debate.

While I’m in general tilting toward the cynical side when I see a tool get hyped quickly, I’m pretty confident as we extend the size and strength of mobile data networks, get larger screens at home and become more comfortable interacting with webcams that we’ll see applications of Augmented Reality move away from cool visuals and into a realm of great utility. Already, mobile apps like Wikitude are making use of the technology but once data streams there get larger expect even better stuff. (Tangentially, I talked with the creators of a bunch of apps for a recent Creativity story.)

Obviously, as in everything, advertising professionals stand a good chance of ravaging the practice, but I don’t think that’ll matter. Even if they do, useful, interesting applications stand stock apart from tawdry gags. The USPS box simulator Tait mentions from AKQA is a good example of this and the Ikea example below it is great and traditional as well.

My.IKEA from Robin Westergren on Vimeo.

But what are they keys to deeply significant AR projects, other than a growing infrastructure of fast mobile connectivity, increase in display size and webcam adoption?

  • Coordination with product/package design across multiple areas to create unique activators: Consider being able to pullall the Kraft products from your cupboard, place them with their tags facing the webcam and then seeing the different hot meals you could combine them to make. The sort of heavy interplay across multiple product lines that’s necessary for this to be good won’t come from a one-off project, though.
  • Dynamic, rapid interplay with other backend parts on the visualization tip: Wieden + Kennedy did a virtual Easter Egg hunt in its office with Photosynth and Google Street View’s just introduced Smart Navigation. Both services are good at imitating 3D-like experiences from flat images. I can’t imagine we’re far from finding a bridge. Imagine going to Disneyland or a National Park and being able to bring your trail map to a viewer location and pop out an AR map to note landmarks and see what you’re in for. This won’t work, though, unless the stuff in back comes together seamlessly.
  • Useful and compelling content and interactions: This last one may be the most obvious but it’s also the most important. Any Crystal Pepsi/Pet Rock scenario begins with people thinking of the AR applications as tired and a waste of time, developing a resistance to the technology and ignoring it. There are already a few barriers to engagement, namely the amount of time and technology it takes to fire up the interaction. As those come down, you’ve got to make sure what’s on the other end counts.

Wikipedia has an exciting list of potential AR stuff (such as, when projectors get really cheap, you can do cool stuff like this: “Any physical device currently produced to assist in data-oriented tasks (such as the clock, radio, PC, arrival/departure board at an airport, stock ticker, PDA, PMP, informational posters/fliers/billboards, in-car navigation systems, etc. could be replaced by virtual devices that cost nothing to produce aside from the cost of writing the software.”)

Thinking AR stuff will quickly go away or decline in quality is a normal cynical reaction (and one I had at first), but it doesn’t seem like, in this case, it will. Advertisers will certainly make thorough use of the novelty and entertainment aspects, but the rate of innovation inside the AR community will allow more and more meaningful interactions should brands choose to dedicate resources to well-thought-out projects.

Written by Nick

June 12th, 2009 at 12:41 pm

Rohrer’s repped? A watershed moment for games and ads?

I was quite surprised yesterday when my colleague Ann Christine Diaz told me about a story she was working on—Jason Rohrer, renowned champion of the indie videogame movement, signed to be repped by a commercial production company.

In this case, Rohrer’s one of three big new hires by Tool of North America, which traditionally represents TV commercial directors, but is making a foray, along with most anyone in the space concerned with keeping the doors open, into digital creation.

Rohrer’s a very interesting guy, who’s cited by many as one of the top game developers working today, especially among the indie/artsy set (he was also honored as part of this year’s Creativity 50–and that’s no small beer). Esquire magazine had a great story recently about his commitment to craft as well as honorable ideals concerning our relationship with nature and the advancement of an equitable and responsible society. (To be succinct, he’s something of an ascetic who fought to preserve his family’s yard as a meadow, eats vegan food and doesn’t refrigerate anything.) He’s got the values I wouldn’t have thought to be attracted to working in advertising.

‘Ho ho,’ you say, ‘This is interesting, another artist brought under the spell of the wicked advertising industry. How soon we’ll be seeing him leave, jaded, when his true genius is squandered.’ And you’re right to think that way–it’s a bit like Thoreau writing Quaker Oats spots for Wilford Brimley.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Nick

May 22nd, 2009 at 12:04 am

Posted in Advertising,Art,Gaming

Kickstart My ♡

I ran into an old pal of mine from Flavorpill, Yancey Strickler, last year at an entrepreneurs meetup. I was there researching a story but he had was looking for practical intel for a new venture. We caught up later and he told me about the site he and his partner were working on; It sounded promising then, and I’m pleased to say it launched last week: it’s called Kickstarter, and has a noble aim.

The site is modeled around people outlining creative projects, setting funding goals, and then soliciting pledges from fans to help them create. As the process evolves, fundees give their fans exclusive content in the form of updates, behind-the-scenes peeks and general bonus bits. When the project reaches its funding goal in the allotted time, then fans have to pony up what they promised. The site’s got some great backers, smarts coming from the likes of Waxy.org’s Andy Baio, and an Internet full of folks yearning to make things and help others in the process.

When I initially grabbed beers with Yancey and his partner Perry Chen I dug the idea; I’d just read Kevin Kelly’s Long Tail-informed essay “1,000 True Fans” and realized creators have lots of latitude to reach myriad potential enthusiasts on the web to sustain their efforts. Kickstarter seemed like it’d not only create a platform for those ideas, but also serve as the carrot to keep people focused on their creative goals. (After all, knowing someone you’ve never met in Phoenix pledged $20 and wants to read stuff you cut from your screenplay or video updates on how your harmonica practice is going is a pretty good carrot to keep you from drifting to another thing.)

So far, there are some interesting projects going, from indie games to an amazing-sounding, massive crossword puzzle.

Yancey’s got invites if you’ve got something brewing and like their infrastructure. I’m sure if you ask nicely on Twitter he’ll help you take the first step to working up the wherewithall to making your pet project a reality.

Written by Nick

May 6th, 2009 at 1:02 am

Posted in Art,Technology

The Transformative Power of Art, Pt. 239

the Glue Society's pigeon at Pulse

the Glue Society

Every once in a while you pop your head up from the daily slog and rise above the goblins of self-indulgence and negativity and fractiousness and see with crystal clarity, ‘Hey, this is pretty cool.’

Yesterday was one of those days.

I went to an early press preview of the Pulse art show with the express purpose of seeing a unique statue and writing a story about it.

Sure, the story’s just a humble few lines, but there was no need for me to do anything other than convey the facts: pigeon, man, statue, art fair, funny. An honest job, decently done. But it gives me pleasure to think of the time I spent putting this story together, and hopefully that’s conveyed. Briefly, this is something I struggled with: is it more accurate to say this is a statue of a man defecating on the head of a pigeon or of a pigeon with a man defecating on its head? Think about it.

I can say quite confidently that were fate to have brought me to the show this morning with a budget of $40k and a suitable foyer or other entranceway needing of adornment I could see no greater way to immediately communicate my worldview than this piece of contemporary art. Perhaps, one fine day, it could be mine.

Written by Nick

March 6th, 2009 at 9:12 am

Posted in Advertising,Art,Clips,NYC