Sunday, September 17, 2006

It Makes You Want To Spew Up Your Pancreas

If anything better reflects the state of British culture and the British hatred for intelligence and difficulty, this article in today's Observer must take the cake. Funny how the Americans seem seduced by this shite too.

Against all expectations, the elephant was not in the room. Come Friday evening, at the end of its first full day as an art object, the elephant had probably gone for a lie down, drained by all the attention it had received.
The previous night, at the glamorous opening in the decidedly un-Beverly Hills setting of a disused warehouse at the end of a cul-de-sac nestled close to a downtown freeway interchange, the elephant had upstaged some of Hollywood's finest. Painted red, adorned with gold fleur-de-lis, the elephant merged into the wallpaper behind it. There was nothing that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie could do other than gawp.
The stars, who also included Jude Law and Keanu Reeves, had gathered for the first LA show by the Bristol-born prankster, provocateur, graffiti artist and general meddler, Banksy. Known for his street art and interventions in Britain, his show in LA, 'Barely Legal', was his first large-scale exhibition in the US. Complete with valet parking and a retinue of publicists, it is by far the most high profile of Banksy's foreign jaunts, which have also taken him to Paris, New York and Palestine.
The show includes pieces of British iconography, such as a Guardsman on Horse Guards Parade atop a pantomime horse, in addition to work aimed specifically at the local audience. A police van dominates the entrance to the exhibition, decorated with a picture of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz carrying a noose. Occupying an entire wall next to it is a painting reinterpreting an American icon, the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima. In Banksy's interpretation, the scene is given an urban setting with a group of protesters raising the flag on top of a car.
The world of Brad, Angelina, Jude and Keanu is a long way from Banksy's origins as a 14-year-old schoolboy in Bristol dabbling in graffiti when it was considered an aggressive form of counterculture. The images that followed, daubed illegally on London's walls, paved the way for the trend of appropriating public space by graffiti artists. His chutzpah rose to a higher plane earlier this year when he sprayed nine paintings on the 425-mile barrier that separates Israel from Palestinian territories. A stencil on a Bristol building was allowed to remain in place by the city council after the public voiced overwhelming support.
Yet somehow, despite his mainstream appeal, Banksy has lost none of the respect of his more 'underground' British peers. 'People have been doing graffiti [in the UK] for about 30 years, and it's time it was taken seriously,' said 'Tizer', a south London graffiti artist who works on public murals and on education projects with young offenders. 'When people talk about graffiti they talk about Banksy. Famous people have always come to his exhibitions because his stuff is easy to read.'
A week before the Los Angeles exhibition, Banksy visited Disneyland, somehow managing to place an inflatable figure dressed as a Guantanamo detainee alongside a railroad ride. A short film of the escapade runs inside the LA show. In the same darkened screening room a glass case displays another of his recent interventions: the Paris Hilton CD doctored by Banksy, which he carried out with the help of Los Angeles-based producer Danger Mouse. Enormous cockroaches had been placed inside the display case. Like much of Banksy's work, it is an overt statement. But of what, precisely?
'There's more than one thing going on in every picture,' said Tarik, a chef who had seen Banksy's work in a magazine and decided he had to see it for himself. 'There's a lot of tension in the pictures.'
Tarik gestures at a large painting showing a group of cavemen carrying spears approaching some shopping trolleys. 'European artists are a lot more bold and willing to fight,' he says. 'The concept of opposing your government is full of bullshit here.'
Banksy himself had displayed a fine sense of bullshit in a interview he gave to Roger Gastman published in the LA Weekly. 'Some of the paintings have taken literally days to make,' he confided. 'Essentially, it's about what a horrible place the world is, how unjust and cruel and pointless life is, and ways to avoid thinking about all that. One of the best ways turned out to be sitting in a warehouse making paintings about cruelty, pain and pointlessness.'
Gastman, who edits a magazine called Swindle which features a longer interview with Banksy, thinks that the humour will not be lost on the LA audience. 'His work is fun and witty when you see it in the street,' he said. 'No matter what serious questions I asked, his answers are very reflective of the humour in his work.'
In keeping with his secretive persona - there are no pictures of Banksy and his identity remains in doubt - the artist himself was probably not present at the opening. But that didn't stop people asking. 'Is the artist here,' asked J Mitchell, a singer. 'Are you the artist?'
Josh, a computer programmer and stencil artist was impressed by the scale of the work. 'He doesn't do discreet like other stencil artists,' he said. 'These are supposed to be here, in a gallery. He does it big, which is what graffiti artists have been doing for a long time.'
Josh did, however, take exception to the heavily armed security guards watching over the exhibition. 'They confiscated my Sharpie [indelible marker] on the way in,' he said.
But in a town that takes its animal welfare very seriously, some took exception to the presence of the elephant. On entering, visitors were presented with a flyer reading: 'There's an elephant in the room. There's a problem we never talk about. The fact is that life isn't getting any fairer. 1.7 billion people have no access to clean drinking water. 20 billion people live below the poverty line. Every day hundreds of people are made to physically be sick by morons at art shows telling them how bad the world is but never actually doing something about it. Anybody want a free glass of wine?'
Anarchy Jordan, another artist at the first public view of the show on Friday night, had his doubts. 'I don't know if he's selling out, but it's sad,' he said of the elephant exhibit. 'It must have cost a lot of money.'
Some of the money will have come from the numbered prints on sale for $500 each on the glitzy opening night. The rest will have come from the current market for his work, with Banksy's pictures selling for upwards of £40,000, according to his London agent Steve Lazarides. Anarchy Jordan was impressed by the subversiveness of some of the pieces, including the familiar Paramount films logo bearing the word Paranoid. 'Coming to LA and doing this is subversive," he said. 'After all, LA is the origin of so much nonsense.'
Jay Buim, writing on the yeahyouknow blog, however, was sold on the 'insanely rad installation'. 'Banksy,' wrote Buim, 'Y'all went up and done it. Sho Nuff.'

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