A graffiti wall is something you hardly even notice in a big city. It was my opinion that a person spraying the walls was just someone marking his territory like a dog peeing on a fence. It wasn’t until the Berlinale’s 60th anniversary press conference when Dieter Kosslick threw out the question, “Has anyone heard of Banksy?”, that I realized I was on a revolutionary journey towards a new definition. Since only a handful of journalists raised their hands, I didn’t feel so bad. Kosslick said that Banksy and his movie would be appearing in Berlin but Bansky would remain unseen. Unseen, what did that mean? I imagined the obvious reason: since graffiti is technically illegal, the man didn’t want to get arrested. Or would it be the end of his graffiti career if we knew who his identity? Later I realized that he has a strange relationship to fame. Last year he already had a museum show in Bristol, his home town, and now he is trying a hand at being a movie director. It seems to me that he is heading for the mainstream but still fighting it all the way. What is fascinating is that this anonymous artist has managed to become more desirable by keeping himself under wraps.
So who is Banksy and what is so special about him? The internet says that he was born in 1974 near Bristol, England. He uses stencil graffiti techniques which stem from the grass-root graffiti artist Blek Le Rat from Paris, who was born in the 1950s. Banksy’s work is satirical and focuses on the topics of politics, culture and ethics. It wasn’t until Banksy decided to paint on the security wall in Israel that he became world famous. His work has been exhibited both in the Tate and MOMA museums. So, while he remains anonymous, his very distinct style of artwork can be seen in countries all around the world. This of course sparked a curiosity in me, so during my entire stay in Berlin, I looked for evidence of Banksy’s work without any success.
Before seeing the film Exit through the Gift Shop, we received an introductory video with Banksy in a black hoody; a distorted electronic voice explained why he made this film. Clearly, the man has a great sense of humor or a great ghostwriter. He said,” I guess my ambition was to make a film that would do for graffiti art what The Karate Kid did for martial arts, a film that would encourage every school kid in the world to pick up a spray can and have a go at it. As it turns out I think we might have made a film that does for Street Art what Jaws did for water skiing.” I soon got into the swing of things realizing that Banksy plays with our reality, no matter if it is a video message or a documentary film on graffiti art.
His film follows the life of Thierry Guetta, a French second-hand shopkeeper who lives in L.A. He is an obsessive hobby filmmaker from the get-go. He compulsively documents graffiti artists starting with his cousin Invader who lives in Paris. Invader truly does exist while we later learn that the character Thierry Guetta does not. Invader is known for making beautiful, tiled figures which represents pixels and is based on 1970’s computer games. He has placed his invaders at prime locations and even has had them professionally photographed.
The film follows the trail of several graffiti artists such as Shepard Fairy who is best known for his Hope poster of Obama. A featured female artists was Swoon, who does realistic drawings of cut-out street people on paper. She uses a German Expressionist wood-block printing technique and then glues the drawings to the wall. Banksy spurs Thierry on to produce this documentary about Street Art until it becomes a mass array of images set to fast-paced music that only make you want to puke by the end of it. With this failed attempt at making a documentary, Thierry decides to become a graffiti artist himself. We see the birth of Mr. Brainwash who used Pop Art imagery to create some of the worst moments in art history. Mr. Brainwash (alias Thierry) does an all-out glorified gallery show in L. A. where he makes millions and has put graffiti work into mainstream. Banksy cynically makes fun of the art world with its art critics and prefers to stay incognito while trying to keep his dignity away from the culture-seeking vultures which are ever present.