Every year when the New Zealand International Film Festival is announced, my first move is to rush straight to Auckland’s Civic Theatre and grab my copy of the programme with all the films and the schedule published inside. I then get my trusty highlighter out and mark out every single film I want to get to, and put it into my diary. However, in previous years I always ended up putting off booking until everything was booked out, or other plans had arisen.
This year, I made sure I went to the majority of the films that I had highlighted. One of those I got to attend — thanks to an additional screening, as the first one sold out immediately — was Banksy Does New York. I’d previously heard about the elusive Banksy, and had seen plenty of his work, thanks to the worldwide web, but watching this documentary about his month-long residency in New York really made me think about the motivations behind creation.
During his residency, Banksy left a new piece of work somewhere in New York every day, and would allude to it on his website, making New Yorkers swarm to wherever it was located to see what he’d produced. What made me gasp was that opportunists would come along with chisels and other such tools to cut the works out of the walls and doors they adorned, or would pick up sculptures Banksy had created and load them into the back of their trucks. These artworks would then appear in galleries with the potential to be sold off for hundreds of thousands of dollars, of which Banksy would see none.
This made me think about the work that artists create, and why they create it. To me, this film indicated the artist’s passion for art and the political messages that he wanted to bring to the attention of the works’ viewers, rather than a desire to benefit financially. There were specific situations where the desire for others to benefit more than the artist was evident, such as when Banksy sold original works — without labelling them as originals — on the side of the street for $60; very few of them sold, but those who did purchase one are likely to benefit from a whopping resale value. There was also the time when Banksy purchased a painting from a Housing Works store, made an addition, put it back in the store; the money raised from its auction went straight to the cause. This latter example brought to the attention of the New York City public the not-for-profit organization that advocates for “the end of the dual crises of homelessness and AIDS” in New York.
Throughout the residency, Banksy was able to utilize 31 days to portray a variety of political messages and statements about society and various historical events to a mainstream audience, showcasing to them what was happening in the world around them that they might not notice as they went about their daily lives.
Through his art, Banksy dismisses the idea of being paid for his creations in favour of the big-picture ideal of awareness of the world we live in and keeping informed. His day-nine piece was painted on the side of two vehicles and showed stampeding horses with nightvision goggles, with accompanying audio from the Collateral Murder video showing the killing of children and civilians by US soldiers in Iraq. The door of one of the vehicles was stolen from the display and put up for auction — but it would appear Banksy is OK with that as the political message was received by a large audience.
Art can be an incredible vessel of knowledge and awareness, revealing to a mainstream audience that there are many decisions and events occurring under their noses that they may not be aware of, and this film highlighted for me the huge impact the art world can have by making people stop, think, and make a change in their society and communities.
I guess that’s one of the bonuses for those of us lucky to be working as professionals in the creative industries — as we all know, it’s not just ‘work’.