AACTA Docs Fest | The Monetisation of Street Art
Article by film critic and writer Daniel Hurren.
In recent times street art, once thought of as graffiti or even vandalism, has become an important movement and is now a part of main stream popular culture. This popularisation has resulted in the monetisation of what was once free, with this new commodity beginning to impinge itself on the market now that it has a dollar value. The rise of street art by Banksy saw this happen and there are many more stories of what was once free art being sold by knowing property owners for a profit. Jean Michelle Basquiat is another example of this; as he rose to fame his street art became valuable and now his paintings fetch more than $100 million at auctions.
Although a number of this year’s AACTA shortlisted documentaries shine the spotlight on visual art in Australia – exploring Ben Quilty’s mentoring of Bali Nine convicted drug smuggler Myuran Sukumaran in GUILTY and delving into the life of acclaimed film artist Jill Bilcock in JILL BILCOCK: DANCING THE INVISIBLE – it is Eddie Martin’s HAVE YOU SEEN THE LISTERS? that raises some of the most important issues facing visual artists today
The issues being raised by Martin’s documentary HAVE YOU SEEN THE LISTERS? are: Who gets to determine what has value? Who decides what is allowed to be presented in public spaces? Does the monetisation of these images make them acceptable? Why are ads acceptable public images and graffiti is not? Is this just because ads help move money around, the space of ads being paid for and, therefore, street art is essentially theft because the artist did not pay for the space?
HAVE YOU SEEN THE LISTERS? presents the life Australian street artist Anthony Lister in what appears to be chronological order; from the end of his high school years and the beginning of his artistic career through to his break out shows in Brisbane, Sydney and New York. The film is more than just a presentation of the crazy life of a painter, it's also the portrait of Lister as a young father. We see the development of Lister’s career from his own perspective as well as the perspective of his now separated partner, who consistently supports and encourages Lister through the beginning of his career, while taking care of their children. Support structures and the necessity for them are highlighted effectively in the film and you get a real sense of the importance of sacrifice and the burden placed on Lister’s partner and, in effect, all partners.
We see the artist gradually get bigger and bigger, but like most films on skilled professionals we don’t really get an understanding of the tenacity and determination required to become an artist at this level. Glimpses are shown of Lister at work and it's interesting to see these moments of artistic expression; in particular there is one scene where Lister paints multiple paintings at once, very deliberately, but also in a very casual manner. He is very comfortable in his work space. And as Lister’s art begins to be accepted and his name develops more currency we see the struggle for stabilisation and acceptance; not just from the community, who is the beneficiary of all of this street art, but also from his children.
One of the most important questions asked by HAVE YOU SEEN THE LISTERS? is that of who owns public space and who should be able to present art in these spaces. This is an important question communities need to take more seriously and is a situation that can be easily manipulated by those who would prefer to use the space as a commodity and sell off parts of it to those who are willing to pay for it, rather than the betterment of the community through ideas and art.
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