This fast-paced documentary covers Banksy’s month of making a piece of public art every day in New York for the month of October 2013. It was kind of a NaBloPoMo / NaNoWriMo thing with street art; the film called it a residency. I watched it with my brother, and we kept pausing it to talk about who owns art, what is art, whose opinions about art matter, cultural appropriation, graffiti and vandalism and defacement, the concept of property, the concepts of public versus private, whether art has to have a meaning, and so forth. My brother and I occupy quite different places on the ideological map, so there were times when it was a relief to turn back to the TV with our mouths pressed thin, but at other times we both got really animated in our enthusiasm for the topic and managed to navigate our differences well. It’s a process, right?
The documentary interested me for a lot of reasons, not the least of which being that I recently made my first foray into public art-making. As time goes by, viewers have started to add to my art. Although I don’t think they have improved my piece aesthetically (puh-LEEZ), I am delighted that there is some conversation happening. When the staff at the venue where I made my mural had asked (during the negotiating stages) if I was worried that people might deface it, I told them that I felt that was the nature of public art: of course it will get defaced, or, as I prefer to think of it, altered. People’s comments and tags and scribbles are part of the natural evolution and decay of the piece.
With this in mind, I was quite fascinated to see how Banksy quite skilfully set up all these situations in which each piece of daily art was the catalyst for an entire performance piece involving Banksy hunters, journalists, passers-by, police, opportunistic capitalists, gallery owners, and more. Social media played a big part in this month-long performance, with Bansky posting a clue on Instagram each morning about where that day’s piece could be found. Some of the work was graffiti, some was installation, some was “found” art, some was performance or video. Some of the pieces were static while others involved players or were driven around the city. Class and race and geography all came into play. Banksy’s work is often humourous, and mostly political. Some days his piece piggybacked on existing art or tagging, while other days revealed art that had obviously required a lot of planning and implementation.
I don’t know much about Banksy. During the film, Banksy was constantly referred to by male singular pronouns. I’ve heard that there is some doubt as to their gender, or whether they’re a single person at all. Based on what little I know, I favour the idea that they are a collective. Either way, it seems that the neutral singular/plural pronoun “they” is more appropriate than the assumption of them being male.
The film was about 90 minutes long and used a lot of Banksy’s own posted material, as well as interviews with New Yorkers who were caught up in or otherwise affected by this 31-day residency. If you have an interest in street art, social art, or performative and interactive art, you will likely find lots to interest you here.
I found it on Netflix.