Inside Banksy – Unauthorized Exhibition

In the last year, unauthorized exhibitions of Banksy have been popping up all over Europe and for months I have been saying that I want to visit. And every single time, I did not manage to do it. That is, until I visited my favourite place on Earth, Florence, and saw that, looky look, Banksy is on! I did not waste any time and immediately bought a ticket – because this time, I will not miss it.

Banksy kind of hits home for me, literally. You know, I used to live in Bath, which is close to see where I am going with this? Yeah, for years I have been engulfed in the phenomena that is Banksy and I was excited to see his work in a gallery setting.

I was asking myself if this exhibition is the same one, as the one in Trieste. It can’t be, can it? Though the curator is the same. But the time overlaps. At the same time, there is not many physical artworks to exhibit, mainly videos and reproductions, so it could be the same? I wasted so much time on this question, that I actually opened the internet and Googled it… Of course they were not the same. They couldn’t be. Even though the subject is the same, the whole composition and message is totally different. Exhibition in Trieste (Banksy, The Great Communicator) apparently featured hundreds of objects, photographs and memorabilia and 60 original works and reproductions from private collections. Whereas the exhibition in Florence (Inside Banksy, Unauthorised Exhibition) had the graffiti exhibited in a more immersive way, not in the usual white-cubian display. There is also a question of the space, where the exhibitions were: the one in Florence was in a former church, which already makes the space to curate very different – it could not have been done as it was done in a different setting. I mean, now I am just stating the obvious, but still, a point that had to be made.

Ok, let’s go inside the exhibition. When I walked through the entrance, the guy told me that the first thing I am going to see will be an introduction and I was very curious to see how they did it. Usually, a biography is the first thing you see, but here that is not possible. So, will they write about the history of graffiti, the history of his art – I was very eager to check how the curator decided to tackle an issue, where you don’t really have a person to introduce, even though that person is literally why the exhibition exists. And I can say it was all of that. Actually, there was pretty little text and for once, I kind of wanted a bit more – to explain each thing in more detail. But I guess that was a part of it, the audiences’ own explanation, as it is, when a new Banksy appears somewhere in the world.

A part of the introduction said that you will be literally immersed in a new way and will be ‘at the centre of the scene, and you will feel overwhelmed by your surroundings, living through a whirlwind of unexpected emotions’. I have to say that for me personally that was not hard to imagine, as I have seen a Dali immersive exhibition at the exact same space a year and a half ago and it was definitely an experience. When art comes alive around you, you can not but feel strong emotions, connect to the art even more and feel like you completely understand it. I am excited they decided to make Banksy’s works immersive – because they are the works one literally has to step inside of. Even though his motifs are very figurative and in your face, they have many secret details and metaphoric designs, so ‘stepping inside’ can give you more insight.

Salvador Dali, 2021

Another part that makes the exhibition come to life is music (did I mention already how big of a fan I am for music in galleries??) – the EDM drum thumping beats, echoing all around and going through you, give another layer to the positive anxiety you are feeling from the loud beating of your heart.

In general, graffiti art is a form of protest and with his motives, Banksy adds another tier and perspective in the social commentary. His graffiti always appear after some huge thing happens in the human world and are a mirror, shoved into our faces.

I have always been wondering if his anonymity gives him a credibility as an artist, you know, creating a mysterious persona has always added the value, though I feel the main part for him are his works – how they are, how they appear, how they make us feel. Yes, the secrecy adds to it, so more people see it and are interested in it, but that is only a plus for the message to come across to a bigger number of population. There is something so powerful in staying hidden for so long, when everyone wants to know your identity – you share your intimacy (your art, your message) with the world, but you have no face. You are everyone. You are us and we are you!

Banksy really is a great communicator. He paints a message in a purest form. You see it and immediately know what it represents, but at the same time, it has so many different layers.

Now, I know I won’t say anything new, when I start talking about graffiti, but here goes. The main thing about it is tagging the walls of primarily public architecture. So, where is the line between ‘normal’ graffiti and Banksy graffiti? It is not just about the visual impact, metaphorical language and secrecy. Other graffiti artists are also anonymous and they also do great visual work with a powerful message. So, why is someone drawing graffiti on your wall a point where you call police for destruction of property, but if Banksy appeared on your garage door, you would suddenly become a millionaire in your mind and have all the bragging rights? Is it really all just about his message? And why do we look at his art in an excited way, even though it appears out of negative events and we are literally thrilled when a new Banksy shows up? Wow, let that sink in for a bit…

Another thing I noticed that I actually had no clue about, was that all the texts describe Banksy as an ‘English writer’. I thought at first that was an unfortunate translation, but even in Italian, it is not ‘scrittore’, but a ‘misterioso writer Britannico’. Is that a term that is widely used in the art world and I missed it? I will have to look more into that, but please do let me know if you know anything about that. I love learning something new every day.

Especially, as his works are more figurative than actual text. As you could see in the other part of the exhibition, the former church of Santo Stefano al Ponte. When you walk into the space, you are immediately greeted by loud music and colours all around you. The whole church is basically a huge animated projection of Banksy’s works, all over the walls. They move, they change, they disappear, they engage with each other, they are a fluid story, like a dream-like world, happening in front of you, not just inside of you.

Though, the problem with technology is that instead of me sitting still with my mouth open and just being immersed in the experience, I kept taking the videos. Like, come on Nina, get it together and just be. Why is it so hard to just be? Is that our newly-inborn feeling of flashy moving image and no attention span coming out? Only when you put down your phone you can really feel how powerful the experience is. It is something completely different as, I would imagine, the Trieste experience, with the works hanging on the walls – and here, dancing all around you on a gigantic canvas, that is the church. No real context, just the works and the music. Considering Banksy has made quite a few album covers over the years (which are also exhibited there), I kept wondering if any of that music were the songs from those albums. And as I said before, when I was here for Dali, he is literally the only artist who can have boobs projected all over the altar. And Banksy is the only artist who can have such protests, such ‘sacrilegious’ themes (against politics, consumerism, power etc.) projected on that same altar. It really is a very interesting positioning that gives an additional meaning to everything.

On another, not connected note, I do really feel that these immersive art experiences are the future of art. You can also connect this to more and more online galleries that emerged, especially during covid times, but let’s be honest, it really is not the same, is it? An experience where you can actually walk into the space (or inside the artwork with your physical body, like in this instance) – on the internet, your body is not present, only your mind, which, for me, takes away a layer of experience. Ok, 3, 2, 1, go, let’s start a discussion on that as well! 

It was so great to see little (and big) kids playing around with the projections, as well as in the separate corner, where you could become a Banksy for a few minutes, getting the opportunity to do your own graffiti art or use his stencils. In another corner, there was a proper VR experience – but the line was always too long, so I did not try it out.

No, you know what, I have time, I am gonna do it! And I did! It wasn’t even that long of a wait… It was a simulation of you walking down the streets of London and Bethlehem where some of his most famous graffiti are and seeing them ‘in person’. Though, I found out that VR is not really for me. I got so dizzy with the movement that I did not know if I will survive those few minutes with the goggles on or not. So, if that is the future of art, I will have to find another hobby….

But in general, those kinds of immersive exhibitions, where you can really become a part of the artwork and even touch it – this is what will bring more and more people in. It brings art closer to people – we are also tactile creatures, not just visual ones, and feeling the thing makes us understand and appreciate it more.

I would come and see that same exhibition again. Why? Not because it was soooo goood, but because as with every immersive thing (and art in general), you feel something new every single time. Different day, different feelings inside of you, different experience.

And to conclude – unauthorised exhibition..what does that really mean? Ok, we do not know who the artist actually is, so exhibiting his work and profiting from it, might open a few questions. But the most important one for me is: is he ok with the recent exhibitions or not? More people getting to know his message, should be a good thing for him? So, if he would authorise it, would that mean stepping out of anonymity and losing everything he (or she????) has been working for? Or could that have been done in a different way and would actually add to the exhibition itself and the story could have been told in a different way? Ok, I am not even sure what I am talking about anymore…you see, this exhibition really did what it was supposed to: open my head and flood my brain with various questions. Great job, indeed!  

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