BSA founders appear in new documentary on HBO debuting November 17 and write the introduction for new book on world’s best known elusive street artist.
Both “Banksy Does New York” and “Banksy In New York” debut one year after the elusive British street artist known as Banksy launched a self-proclaimed month-long residency in New York City, the city that spawned the modern graffiti and Street Art movement.
Steven P. Harrington and Jaime Rojo, founders of BrooklynStreetArt.com and authors of Brooklyn Street Art and Street Art New York (Prestel/Random House) and over 200 global street art articles on The Huffington Post and French and Spanish subsidiaries, help set the tone for the story in the new documentary BANKSY DOES NEW YORK which premiered in New York City this Friday night (9/14) at the DOC NYC festival and will debut nationwide Monday November 17th at 9pm on HBO.
“We are completely honored that director Chris Moukarbel and producer Jack Turner interviewed us first for this important piece of modern street art storytelling because we were really able to tell it from the perspective of New Yorkers who cover the scene daily from the street,” says Harrington, Editor in Chief.
The film engages everyday New Yorkers, street art fans, Banksy hunters, and general mainstream media as well as experts on the present day graffiti and street art scene like photographer Luna Park, blogger RJ Rushmore (Vandalog), culture critic and curator Carlo McCormick, editor Hrag Vartanian of Hyperallergic, and artist/blogger Robert Stevens.
A second Banksy-related project debuting at the same time is the release of the book, BANKSY IN NEW YORK by Ray Mock, founder of the independent publisher Carnage NYC, who has been documenting street art and graffiti in New York and around the world for almost 10 years. The book contains Mock’s personal account and photographs of the month-long installation.
“Banksy Does New York”, a new documentary by director Chris Moukarbel, meticulously culls and artfully arranges the play and the actors for you in just over an hour with new revelations popping up every few minutes – and you may not believe what you actually missed. But don’t feel bad; everyone missed something during the one-month “Better Out Than In” residency of the Brisol-based street artist during October, 2013. Luckily Moukarbel has done the hard work of sifting through the thousands of Instagram posts, Tweets, YouTube videos, and Banksy’s own digital clues to deftly tell you the story, or rather, stories.
The latest HBO documentary, which airs November 17th, confronts the conventions of typical documentary making by compiling user-generated digital content, or crowd-sourcing the thousands of individual perspectives that occurred in tandem as the new works were unveiled on the streets of New York’s five boroughs. (Full disclosure: We are both interviewed in it.)
“There’s no way we could have gotten cameras everywhere even if we were trying and if we wanted to,” said Moukarbel at a special screening in Manhattan at HBO’s offices last week for many of the “content creators” whose work is woven together to reveal the larger narratives arising from the events.
“No one really knew what Banksy was doing. No one had put a frame around it,” says Chris as he describes the process of allowing the stories to tell him and producer Jack Turner what actually happened. “I mean he so expertly used social media,” says Turner, “Having an Instagram account from the first day — he invented a way for communicating his work and created a following for it and created an event that is a work itself.”
Aside from the mechanics of the unfolding dramas, “Banksy Does New York” attempts to give many of the actors center stage here where other film makers would have relegated them to the roles of extras. Out of town vloggers drive into the city to record their daily discoveries, bonafide Banksy hunters who pool their clues in real time virtually and race to discover the new piece before it is stolen or vandalized, neighborhood entrepreneurs who charge a fee to onlookers for peeking at the paintings, and even the human stories behind the public heist and subsequent art sale that is arranged for one of the sculptures.
Somehow the elusive street artist pulling strings behind the scenes comes off as a sardonic populist everyman although he probably really is just a flagrant [insert your personal projection here]. By removing himself from the show, everyone else is revealed.
And they are nearly all here too. Like the fictional nightlife doyen Stefon Zolesky on Saturday Night Live might say, “This club has everything”; artists, fans, intellectuals, court jesters, minstrels, charlatans, sideshows, soldiers, police, politicians, a priest, dogs, passion, sweetness, sarcasm, irony, jealousy, chicanery, a Greek chorus, car chases, a few fights, a couple of heartfelt speeches, some arrests, bleating lambs being lead to slaughter.
… And a winking wizard somewhere behind the curtain.
Like we said last year as the month drew to a close in an article entitled Banksy’s Final Trick, “No longer asking, ‘Who is Banksy’, many strolling New Yorkers this October were only half-kidding when they would point to nearly any scene or object on the street and ask each other, ‘Is that a Banksy?’”
We turned the interview tables on director Chris Moukarbel and producer Jack Turner to see how they developed their story for “Banksy Does New York”.
Brooklyn Street Art:They say that a documentary filmmaker can’t really have a story in mind going in to the project – because the story reveals itself as you go. Did you see the story developing as you met people and looked at video? Chris Moukarbel: No one had really looked at the residency in its entirety so we felt like archeologists piecing together all these bits of information and trying to create a complete vision of what went down that month. Certain themes began to emerge and it was interesting to find where the work was actually pointing. The locations of each piece appeared random and actually were incredibly important to how you were supposed to see the work. Sometimes you realized that the work itself only served to bring peoples attention to the significance of the location.
Brooklyn Street Art:There are so many moving parts in this story – the enigmatic artist, the illegal nature of the work, the intersection with social media, the unpredictable nature of the responses. Was this a story that was difficult to get your hands around? Jack Turner: Good question…the basic idea from the start was simply to relive that month-long circus for those people who were not aware, not in NYC or just missed it. To be honest, we originally thought that a sequential catalogue of the work would feel repetitive – but as we did more research, we found that each of the works created vastly different reactions from the public and they helped us explore all of these themes. We can only draw our own meaning from some of the work but that is when the public reaction becomes part of the work itself – which is why public art, street art and graffiti exist.
Brooklyn Street Art:Had you had much exposure to the Street Art and graffiti worlds previous to taking on this project? What surprised you about it that you wouldn’t have expected? Chris Moukarbel: I was never a part of the street art world but I have an art background and a lot of my work was site specific. I would create pieces that were meant to live online or on public access TV, as well as street pieces. It was interesting to get to know more about an art world with its own language – available in plain view of New Yorkers.
Brooklyn Street Art:What element first attracted your interest in the Banksy story when you heard that he had executed this residency in New York? Chris Moukarbel: When HBO approached us about making the film I felt like it could be a great archive of an artists work and also a snapshot of the Internet for one month. I love public art and I was interested in the way that Banksy was using the Internet and social media as if it were the street.
Brooklyn Street Art:After seeing “Exit Through the Gift Shop” many people reported feeling like they were more confused than before about Banksy and his story. How would you like people to feel after “Banksy Does New York?” Jack Turner: Banksy is an incredibly prolific artist and this film covers only one of the many chapters in his career. By remaining anonymous, Banksy takes the focus away from the artist or the source and he puts the focus on the statement and the work. There is a reason that he is the most infamous artist working today, he represents an idea that many people identify with…and he is really funny! I think this film, more than anything, highlights how well he uses social media to his disposal.
Brooklyn Street Art:You must have imagined what a response might be from Banksy to your film. What do you think he will think of this piece? Jack Turner: It is extremely important in any project that Chris or I do to make sure that we present the whole story in a truthful way. That is why we have had such success accessing user-generated footage. We went from having a one camera crew, as documentaries are often made, to having a thousand cameras throughout the city – each giving us footage that reflects what really happened. Maybe Banksy will love it, maybe he will hate it – but the most important thing to us is that he feels like it is a true reflection of what happened over the course of that month.
Brooklyn Street Art:As producers and the director, do you think of yourselves as artists, reporters, sociologists, detectives? Jack Turner: A couple years ago a friend of mine said that making a documentary is like getting paid (very little) to learn an enormous amount about something. I’ll take that. Chris Moukarbel: I think of myself as a storyteller. In a way, I was still a storyteller when I was making fine art but now I’m using a popular medium that reaches a wider audience.
Banksy Does New York airs November 17 on HBO and is available now on HBO GO.
Director: Chris Moukarbel
Producers: Chris Moukarbel, Jack Turner
Executive producer: Sheila Nevins
Directors of photography: Mai Iskander, Karim Raoul
Editor: Jennifer Harrington
Production companies: Matador Content, Permanent Wave, Home Box Office
As we hear of the sudden appearance of a new Banksy in southeast England we recall that it was exactly a year ago today that the international Street Art man of mystery grabbed New York by the mobiles and invited everyone to a month-long exhibition of painting, sculpture, installation, performance and real life detective games on our own streets.
To commemorate Banksy’s very successful offering to the city and the excitement that ensued with its inhabitants we decided to put together a series of messages left out for him on walls, doors, trucks and fences. Not all the messages are demonstrations of love (indeed some are hostile) but all them are an indication of his clever ability to move people with wit and indicate a certain feeling of familiarity that people have with the anonymous Street Artist.
We’ve all recovered quite well of course from the month-long treasure hunt, and for many it was enough of a jarring public works project/ anthropological experiment / hype campaign to merit a year of examination and reflection. And now, the commemorations: This fall we know of at least one book (Banksy in New York) and one documentary (Banksy Does New York) that will mark the anniversary of the “Better Out Than In” residency and many New Yorkers will remember their own keen behaviors on social media and crowded sidewalks chasing after the near-daily revelations – and a few may possibly experience joy or a twinge of awkward discomfort in retrospect.
We think the biggest takeaway for us was that whether it was man or marketing team, Banksy helped New Yorkers to re-examine nearly everything in the man-made environment and to consider that it may actually be a piece of art.
For the guys and gals who make up the graffiti/ Street Art scene in New York of course, not everyone was gob-smacked by this peer, this charming and wisecracking Brit who monopolized the mindshare of fans of art in the streets. Almost from Day 1 the buffs, the side busting, the cross-outs, and the free-flowing entreaties addressing our visiting jester were alternately ringing of respect, bemusement, longing after, semi-passive xenophobia, or full-on red-faced insults. And of course there were those just along for the coat-tail ride.
It’s all really just part of the ongoing conversation that always exists on the street, and while you may not have caught all the action last October a look at these images will inform you that Banksy’s impact was felt by many.