4 Docs about Art
January 2016 has been a particularly tragic month. Terrorist attacks in Turkey, Burkina Faso and Indonesia took the lives of many too soon. It is also the month where David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Ettore Scola, Edmonde Charles Roux, Leila Alaoui, to name only a few, passed away.
We all die equal, but what remains to humanity is what we leave behind. Perhaps the most enduring form of life is the art we create. An unforgettable performance, a catchy melody, memorable prose, or a captured moment through a lense are so many legacies which stay with us long after their bodies are gone.
Perhaps, this is the irrevocable power of art. Its ability to mark an era and transcend our mortality. In this post, I would like to celebrate our creative abilities. These documentaries are not related to the people who died. This post will celebrate art, and all the sensitivity, ponderings and wonderings it brings to us while we are alive.
The Artist is Present
Marina Abramovic can be criticized for her megalomaniac tendencies but to my eyes, she undisputedly stands as one of the most outstanding artists of our time. Out of context, her performances are inexplicable to many. Often referred to as the grandmother of performance Art, her work is so memorable because it is actively experienced. It is not about contemplation, it is about experience. Some would call it weird, others would call it visceral. The art market found ways to monetise those experiences by capturing limited edition snapshots of her performances, and all the value is derived from the intensity of her engagement to the audience.
The Artist is present pays a touching tribute to the artist while she prepares for one of her most demanding performances at the time: for eight hours a day, Marina would sit in a chair at the MoMa museum, and look straight in the eyes of visitors who would one by one occupy the chair opposite her and face the artist. Laugh all you want, but see the documentary before you make up your mind on this form of art.
Cutie and the boxer
The Academy award Nominee documentary is a moving account of the 40 year love affair between boxer painter Ushio Shinohara and his wife Noriko (cutie) and how art and the struggles that come with it has slowly taken its toll on their relationship. It is a movie about sacrifice for the one you love, and it’s a movie about a woman trying to find her own identity after leading a life consumed by her couple, her husband’s ego and raising her son.
Where do art and the joy of creation fit in a life devoured by financial worries? How can you think of art when you are not sure you will make it through the month? I remember vividly how with admirable wisdom and serenity, Noriko says that all these struggles were necessary to nurture her art. In effect, she had completely dissociated her physical self from her creative self, by acknowledging that a life of hardship is worth living if it breeds creation. No need to be an art aficionado to enjoy watching this one.
Available on Netflix.
Ai Wei Wei Never Sorry:
The film focuses on Ai’s digital social activism in China, and how his work is intimately linked to his political convictions. Ai spends much of his time, efforts and energy researching and campaigning for cases actively silenced by his government. Again, if you do not care for art, this documentary nonetheless gives an interesting account of modern day China.
His approach to art often involves research methods of investigative journalism. He collects information about incidents that the Chinese government is actively hiding or misinforming its population about, and exposes his findings through art pieces. A provocateur, Ai also starts organising people around him through social media, and organises happenings and events to mock the Chinese government’s response to his actions. This, in turn leads to increasing clashes with the authorities.
A must watch, also available on Netflix.
Exit Through the Giftshop
Originally set out be a film from French “artist” Thierry Guetta on fellow artist friend Banksy, the film turned out to be just the opposite. A Banksy film on the odd rise to fame of Thierry as acclaimed artist Mr Brainwash. It is an amusing and critical piece on underground art, and what it takes to become an artist. While Banksy preserves his anonymity, the film contains footage of the world’s most infamous graffiti artist at work and on interviews but that is not what the film is all about.
Ultimately what the film asks, is what does it take to become a critically acclaimed artists? And like all other spheres of life, talent is only a small piece of the puzzle. Interviews of Banksy, and Shepard FairEy (OBEY) reveal a certain sense of frustration from the well-intentioned hard-working artists over the rise of Thierry Guetta as an artist overnight. The best part of the films is artists asking what does it take to be recognised as such, and wondering what makes one’s work valuable. It is utterly entertaining throughout.
Also available on Netflix.