On Sunday morning I visited The Art of Banksy exhibition, curated by Steve Lazarides, at The Paddock, an incongruously named gravel and concrete patch of space nestled alongside the train lines and the car parks that service the Birrarung Marr/Fed Square complex. For this exhibit’s purposes, I guess it fits an aesthetic: centrally located desolation.
Pay attention to the art works outside the gallery. They are contributions that also critique the nature of the exhibit and the fact it was not approved by Banksy himself.
The cosy space featured many of Banksy’s by now iconic images, mostly as framed prints, or photographs of his work, in a gallery that attempted to imitate a darkened London street (red phone box and all). The air conditioning was welcome.
A few images were arresting, probably because I was less familiar with them. Notable mentions because of this are the Statue of David, and the Grim Reaper on the Big Ben’s clock face. As ever they spark questions and conversations, but this time, perhaps not the ones originally intended (if one can ever know an artist’s intentions).
Today, coming into this shadowy place out of the bright heat of Melbourne’s summer, I was uneasy about some of the images. Perhaps, it had something to do with the events of Friday January 20, in Melbourne’s CBD (I won’t describe them, suffice it to say they remain immensely upsetting). There are times when we as individuals need police and even the military. They serve a social utility, even as an imperfect bulwark against chaos. As a peaceful person, even I concede throwing flowers at people intent on harming others may not stop them.
I understand how armed resistance, peaceful resistance, and even artistic resistance to forces and groups that seek to control and curb our lives and creativity are required, and often dangerous. Despite what they failed to achieve, I too have taken part in marches.
Yet here and now, for me, Banksy’s work is out-of-place. Just as the artist hasn’t approved this exhibit, a part of me baulks at this too. Then again, art where it is not meant to be, is exactly Banksy’s thing. See what I mean, grr? Questions without answers.
I understand the art is incongruous, these pieces are meant to make us stop and reconsider our biases. These works are meant to challenge the status quo. But especially since Friday sometimes we need to stop and present those who serve the community with flowers, rather than throw things at them. Those in uniforms, behind shields, and piloting helicopters, are people, too.
Put Banksy’s work in a gallery, neatly framed, for a paying public, and the works are changed by their context. On buildings in the city, he makes a point of criticising people who pay for art, but inside a pay-walled gallery, where his works are now for sale, it’s too twee. An argument can be made for his art losing its potency, along with its wider audience.
Even though it would be a creative anachronism, for a moment, I want them vandalised, called out for becoming commodities. This is even though ,or perhaps despite myself, you see I too bought one of his images, stitched onto a cap, (I did say it was hot out). Thus, even I succumbed. I can’t fight the forces of consumerism, either.
Perhaps, the most political act an artist/dissenter today is do, is to remain pre-commodification. The artists who remain outside capitalism because their works (even the word ‘works’ sounds like a product) are not traded nor sold are the ones fighting something, or against something (?). But maybe commodification lends them their visibility? And as this exhibit demonstrates, often they don’t control the means of re-production. Maybe you do need to be inside the Matrix to change its destiny? Again, I don’t have answers, I have feelings and questions, and a longing to see the something less familiar and less jokey (yes even me, occasionally).
For actual paint and actual stencils on actual walls, Hosier Lane isn’t far, and is completely free to visit, and take selfies in front of, to sell, too, if you want. That is, if you can squeeze between the wedding parties being photographed, and homeless people being moved on under new council bylaws against rough sleeping.
How about that as a dose of reality?
Thanks to Arts Hub for providing me with a free ticket.
The exhibition finishes by the end of January.