Monday, November 17, 2008

Dunking Nuggets and Thirsty Dogs

If you spend any of your free time wandering around the internet, you may have heard about an interesting art installation in New York. The Village Pet Store and Charcoal Grill is neither pet store nor grill, but an exhibit of animatronic works by the anonymous artist, Banksy.

Unfortunately the exhibit has closed, but if your curiosity is stirred you can learn more about the sort of person who would rent out a space for an art exhibit rather than exhibit in a more traditional venue. Come over to the Urbana Free and check out Wall and Piece, a collection of Banksy’s stenciled street art, guerrilla paintings snuck onto art gallery walls, and even some, uh, mixed-media sculptures using closed-circuit television cameras and fake crows.

Mixed in with full-page color images of Banksy’s work are anecdotes, explanations, and ideology. The anecdotes of his trips to install works are sometimes humorous, sometimes tense—on one occasion, while pasting up posters, the artist witnesses a van pull up to a closed store and empty itself of masked criminals who break in and start robbing the place. Realizing the was also not participating in any sort of legal activity, Banksy also fled the scene.

The explanations are often helpful in providing context for the artwork. A piece of vast cement wall that has been painted to look like a hole has been blasted through to reveal an idyllic landscape on the other side becomes less cute and more meaningful when you learn that the wall separates Israel and Palestine.

While Banksy’s ideology comes through a little strong, it provides excellent insight into his motives for taking his talent to the street. Just the basic idea of making street art is ideological—his art is in public space, which does two things. First, it argues against restriction—if the space is indeed public, one can use it as a canvas for artwork. Second, it meets the intended audience where they are—Banksy’s work doesn’t hide in a museum (unless he wants to reach the museum-going audience), and challenges its viewers to think where they are, interrupting their daily routines with statements against violence, consumerism, and other issues. Often, however, Banksy appears to be encouraging a sense of playfulness and challenging people to shake up the mundane aspects of life. I mean, I can’t think of a stronger motivation for cutting parking cones at odd angles and arranging them to look like the line of cones is gradually sinking into the asphalt than to add a little variety to the morning commute/walk to the office.

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