I went to Bristol this weekend with Andrew to visit the Banksy Vs Bristol Museum exhibition.
He drove, I took a 3 hour 15 minute train journey with two changes. It had been two weeks since I last saw him. You just try keeping the smile off my face as I see him, in the distance, walking towards me. We meet in the middle of the street with wide smiles and open arms. It is two o clock friday afternoon. We check into the hotel.
The four star Ramada. In Andrew's words... "It is basically a holiday inn with a nicer smell!"
Me: "and a swimming pool"
Andrew "and a swimming pool"
Me "and breakfast"
Andrew "and breakfast"
We enter the room. Mostly all I can think whilst in the room is "I wonder how many people have had sex in here?" Surely every couple that has stayed here. And with such great adult movies (At 12.99 a pop) as "smoking ladies" (as in they smoke not they are smoking hot, or maybe both, word play!) and "ladies in rubber", it makes you wonder how much love has been exchanged between a solo man and his hand. Sex has probably been had everywhere in this room... in that bed, on that chair, on that desk, against that wall, in that shower... Then I wonder, after all that sex, how sanitary can this room actually be.
We take advantage of hotel facilities, we go for a quick swim, we take a sauna with a guy convinced that Andrew is Max from Hollyoaks. The guy fills the room with menthol, so it is like sitting in a bowl of vicks. It makes me high, I leave feeling happy, light headed and chatty. I recommend menthol sauna's to everyone. We did not visit the Banksy exhibition as it was late in the afternoon, that is for tomorrow morning. Instead we belatedly celebrate my birthday with a pot noodle and bottle of Moet. (Little did I know at the time, as we were toasting my birthday, we were also toasting my dad, who was made redundant round about the same time. Good bye Audi A5, KIT, The bat mobile. My dad has been a very good dad to me, and if the joys of life were dependent on dad points then he would be living greatly. As it happens the joys of life are dependent on a lot of things out of our control, namely the economy...) We then explore Bristol, stumble upon a Punjabi festival in a park, drink cider, find a busy tapas bar, drink spanish/mexican beer. By this point we are drunk, impatient and unwilling to wait to be seated, we order a selection of meaty tapas and eat at the bar. Whilst we wait for the food I go through the intricacies of waitressing with Andrew. Later we drink more bourbon in the hotel room, attempt to go to a bar recommended by a friend of mine, but instead go to bed. Andrew falls asleep whilst I watch some crap film about a caveman living in the early nineties who befriends a couple of high school 'losers'. I get angry because Andrew will not let me spoon him...
The next day we are up later than we wanted to be (we were aiming to be at the exhibition by 9.30) neither of us set an alarm. We feast upon a full english breakfast and steal some pastries from the hotel to feast on whilst we wait in line. It was 11.00 by the time we got there... the queue was 6 hours long.
"Excuse me, what time do people start queuing up in the morning?" I ask
"Around 7.30... we open at 10." That settled it. We will return tomorrow.
In the meantime we explore more of Bristol.
We walk via the Christmas steps to the Eastside and view some great and not so great graffiti, drink 6.5% cider (this post suddenly makes me sound like I have become dependent on alcohol. But I was on holiday!) in a quaint cafe. It seems that graffiti culture is pretty prominent in Bristol. It makes you wonder what came first Banksy, or the Graffiti. There must be a pretty laid back attitude within both the community and council although, I did notice some graffiti that had been painted over/washed away, next to graffiti that was seemingly there to stay. Who decides what stays and what goes?
On the walk back we call into an antique shop that smells like stale smoke and general dirt, for some reason this smell reminds me of being very little, perhaps the memory of the family room in Rylands Rec or maybe the smell of an old persons home I once went into. We buy some LPs, a pound a go. Star Wars sound track, The Animals, Voyage - a journey through discoid (this was bought for the title and insane artwork) Blondie and Led Zeppelin 1 (This was bought because the Atlantic sticker was plum and green as oppose to the very common orange and green. After a quick consultation between myself and Andrew and a quick phone call to a friend, we decided that it maybe worth something, if not, it was a quid nothing much has been lost. Besides I said I would keep hold of it, as Andrew already has a vinyl copy. We are not geeks in the slightest.)
Then there was Banksy. It is possible that you began reading this post to read about the exhibition. Instead you got a load of semi interesting dross that has not really too much to do with, well, anything. In way I was trying to build a bit of anticipation, build things up in a round about way, let you experience what we also experienced whilst attempting to view this exhibition. As you read earlier, we decided it would be best to arrive first thing in the morning, in the hope that no one else had had this idea. Of course others arrived at the same time, but far less than four hundred (which is the capacity of the museum.) We sat on the road, in an Alton Towers style queue with two lattes, two cookies, a can of coke, a Big Issue and a copy of Slaughterhouse Five (very good read, must write about it on here some time.) By 9 the queue was more than three hours long. The doors opened at 9.30 (early). And here it is... The Exhibition.
I had been looking forward to this because, finally, I thought I had found an exhibition that I wouldn't have to drag Andrew around. We first entered a room which was fascinating. A sort of mock up studio full of Banksy's stencils. The beauty of Banksy is his accessibility, almost anyone can get it - whether you like it or not, you get it. And it is witty, and it is fun, and it does poke fun at itself, the art world in gerneral and it's audience. In that sense nobody is excluded. Almost. It is great watching a fifty five year old woman attempting to explain Banksy to her 5 year old grandson. At his age he is still making sense of the world that he see's, he is still accepting things at face value, he hasn't enough experience to value something as a form of artistic wit. So when Banksy juxtaposes a still life oil painting of fruit and meat with a handful of plastic, joke shop flies, he doesn't get it. He accepts it for what it is. At the very least he may appreciate its aesthetic, but he will not understand it in any greater context. He will not associate the flies as being a comment on the age/style of the piece, that they are mocking it's artistic integrity (whilst quite hypocritically posing as art itself - a joke in a joke.) The seven year olds however, have started to become a little more analytical. They have seen a few classic art pieces perhaps, and they are now capable of laughing when they see a portrait with a joke shop arrow in it's center. God help their parents when they get to the landscape picture entitled "Dogging", need I say more?
Banksy's wit left the brick walls and canvases. In the second room it found itself in sculpture and animatronics. Where baby chicken nuggets were locked inside a mock pen and pecked at a mc donald's BBQ dip; where two Tesco's Haddok fingers swam around a fish bowl; where a haggard tweety pie swung slowly and unenthusiastically within his cage. Although a very clever man, and dispite enjoying the work very much I felt that this work was a cheap thrill, I got it, it felt good, I was being let in on a joke. But so was everyone else, and in a way I began to feel a little cheated.There was no challenge to this artwork. But then again Banksy is constantly chanllenging his own integrity as art, and not only that, but the integrity of all art. And this is where it begins to get a little bit more interesting.
I did ask to be challenged. And here it is, a 3D 'Where's Wally?' only it was more of a spot the terrorist. A scale model of Bethlehem featuring 294 tiny model soldiers and one terrorist. I found him with a little help from a few other terrorst spotters. 284 soliders to one terroist, I wonder if that is an accurate figure? Probably not - that would be over analysing. Banksy is instant, you don't need to analyse. He is a form of social awareness.
The whole museum then turns into a form of "Where's Banksy". The regular exhibitions have been toyed with. Taxidermy, pottery/craft, fine art painting (classical-contemporary) minerals and so on. Hidden amongst each of these were Banksy. Suddenly things get very interesting. All other pieces in the museum can no longer be ignored. Everything is looked at and scrutinized. The Fifty Five year old turns to her grandson and asks him, "What is wrong with this cabinet?" Inside the cabinet are plates with traditional patterns hand painted upon them, amongst them, a printed plate featuring a photographic image of two kittens. Sometimes there is an item in the museum that you are convinced is a joke but then you find that actually it is a legitimate piece of art/relic/information. There is not always a hint. In the fine art painting exhibit, Banksy's caption would always say "Local Artist" and little more. In show cases there would be a found object intended as a joke, no explanation or caption. The whole experience completely throws you. The second you let your guard down is the second he pops up again with a new prop, and is ready to trick you into believing that what you are looking at is the real thing. We hovered around the mineral section for a good twenty minutes without seeing any practical jokes left by Banksy. As we were leavng I notice a few falic shaped rocks then placed next to them a subtle dildo. I laugh.
Me: "Those rocks, look,"
Andrew: "Oh yeah they do look a bit rude."
Me: "You don't know what I'm laughing at do you?" He looks again, we begin to walk off
Andrew: "Yeah I do, it was that last one wasn't it. The pink one, it looked a bit like a willy. It even had veins"
Me: "Are you kidding me?"
Andrew: "No it looked like a willy."
Me: "Andrew, that was a dildo, go back and look."
Andrew: "Oh yeah you're right."
I wonder if any of the practical jokes will be over looked and left in there by the Bristol Museum Staff. I bloody hope so!
It was worth the queue, but it wouldn't have been worth any more than three hours... at a push.
Our journey ends with a run to the train station, the quickest farewell kiss you have ever seen (I didn't even get to pop my leg up like I wanted too. a run to the platform, falling up some stairs, reaching the platform, reaching out for the door handle of the train, only to be shouted at (quite harshly he nearly made me cry he was so harsh) "STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING! IT IS LOCKED! YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED ON!" I take an alternative route home. It takes four hours.