I would hesitate to call Banksy’s art subtle at least in regards to his larger installations like Dismaland, and most recently, the Walled Off Hotel that sits at the barrier separating Israel and Palestine. Like I said, subtlety is not the word that comes to mind. This isn’t to suggest that the work isn’t effective, as the Hotel will undoubtedly (for it already has) generate a lot of controversy and rather generative discussion. The sheer directness and ambitious scale are bountiful reminders that Banksy is well aware of what he is doing.
Of course this isn’t the first large installation he has done either. His Dismaland, a dystopian amusement park was closed in 2015.
But regardless of the buzz that Banksy generates, from his street art to these installations or varying degrees of performance art, I have to wonder about the effectiveness of, specifically, the medium of installation art.
A great deal of my struggle to fully invest myself in installation art revolves around the inevitable pitfall of labeling something as just that. Although one of the points of interest in art like the Walled Off Hotel is that you can quite literally sleep in art, to me calling it so is a double-edged sword because calling something art makes it feel somewhat distant or at least off on some form of tangential, yet parallel, world. The world it lies parallel to, I don’t wish to call it reality, is sort of our unconscious goings-about – a world where we don’t really scrutinize or really think about. The world of art on the other hand asks the audience to put their thinking caps on. It feels so separated.
To word it differently, perhaps what I most fear about installation art, or other artistic endeavors that you may find on those art blogs that accumulate various cute little paintings or inventive crafting, is that for most people, it may all just come across as novelties with little to no lasting effect.
Yes we can literally sleep in art, but when couldn’t we? We already did, but doing it in so direct a manner probably calls our attention to our unconscious everyday-activities. But I genuinely believe most people forget about that moment. Instead they regress to their default settings.
I know this sounds like some rambling of hopelessness, but I think it is key to remember that Banksy is definitely not doing this for everyone. No artist would hold the unreasonable dream of creating content that everyone likes. Regardless, I have to question the effectiveness of installation art when we so often return to a default setting after what is objectively a perceptively jarring experience. But perhaps that is why it is so effective – because it shows how most people cannot remain in an exposed world generated by the parallel world of art. Even a hotel is incredibly ephemeral. A weird dream.