Gross Domestic Product | Let’s visit it together
Banksy and his Gross Domestic Product (GDP) shop in Croydon, London. Today’s post is about an experience I had last night that I don’t think I’ll easily forget. As soon as I left the office, I discovered, thanks to Instagram, the latest artwork by Banksy. Without hesitation, I took a train and went to Croydon, on the outskirts of London, to take a look.
The only clues left yesterday afternoon by Banksy about this installation shop were related to the location. And the fact that it was a showroom that could only be visited behind closed doors. So, despite the rain, I got busy and tried to figure out what it was all about.
When I arrived near one of the most popular gym chains here in London, Puregym, I knew I was in the right place. In fact, for Frieze, the most popular contemporary art fair here in London, Banksy created his own personal space. It’s not a booth at the fair, but rather a shop closed to the public and called Gross Domestic Product, which, for those who know English culture, the irony of the title is quite clear. The phrase refers to GDP, Gross Domestic Product.
Banksy and his Gross Domestic Product shop. How does it work
Banksy and his Gross Domestic Product shop. As soon as you arrive, you get in line to take a look inside the windows of this hypothetical store. It is located in a small street in the neighborhood. And immediately you are fascinated by what you can see inside. Like in a museum or gallery, the works are displayed with their respective captions. And with a whole series of common objects transformed, each with its own meaning that makes us reflect on ourselves and our society.
Apparently, Banksy decided to open this imaginary store of “impractical and offensive” furniture objects following a copyright controversy with a Greetings card brand. Here in the UK, greeting cards are widely used and are purchased on every occasion by anyone. The artist then decided to open his independent store saying: “A greetings card company is contesting the trademark I hold to my art and trying to take custody of my name so they can sell their fake Banksy merchandise legally.” But he does not agree. And he confirmed that he wants anyone to use and modify his works, but not to appropriate his name.
The first windows
The first work in the window displays an automatic checkout like those used in grocery stores, from which a cascade of typical shopping baskets flows, telling the story of our everyday life. Butterflies, symbols of nature, fly over the same checkout.
Next is an equally interesting work entitled “Baby Mobile”. This piece makes us reflect, especially after recent scandals and debates about new technologies. It is a crib that is captured by a series of closed-circuit cameras. A newborn baby sleeps in the crib, already under the spotlight. The reference is obviously to the cameras that surround us daily, and of which we are often unaware.
Next to this, in the next window, there is a series of clocks featuring the classic Mickey Mouse, the protagonist of several of Banksy’s graffiti works. At every hour of the day and night, in all time zones, we participate in the rat race, the race of the rat that we are all victims of. In fact, in the common imagination, we run every day to catch the subway, to be the first at the coffee shop, or to get a promotion at work that will allow us to purchase items that then factor into the calculation of our nation’s gross domestic product.
The main window
The main showcase of the installation is certainly the strongest, also in terms of the message that the artist wants to convey. It’s a large, decadent room, a bit like a horror chamber furnished with a series of objects that undoubtedly make you reflect.
In the center, on the floor, is Tony the Tiger, the Kellogg’s tiger, in the form of a carpet, with his decayed teeth and his cereal bowl and spoon spilled on the floor.
Behind him, a series of chicks follow a plastic bottle of a chemical product, reminiscent of a well-known brand of detergent heavily advertised on our televisions.
In the center of the room, there is a fireplace and a painting depicting a landscape, “modified” by the effect of planes flying overhead, which obviously have cameras incorporated, as if it were an aerial bombardment on a nineteenth-century landscape. By the way, it’s not the first time that Banksy interacts with nineteenth-century works, as can be seen in some of his works at the Bristol Art gallery.
The right wall
On the right side of the showcase, two elements stand out. The first is the work “The Goldfish,” in which the protagonist is a fish that desires to leave its bowl but risks death because of this desire. An animal that is a companion but is described as inert. The second is a fantastic and overturned armchair on which two pillows suggest ironically that life is too short to take advice from pillowcases. It’s a sharp critique of our habit of quoting short motivational phrases to fill our days.
There are numerous works in this horror room, and among them, one of Banksy’s works stands out, framed by metal curtains held together by chains, as if the art were trapped by rigid and heavy frames. It’s certainly a criticism of the use of his name and his art without authorization.
The left wall
Finally, on the left side, there is a group of objects and children’s toys completely revisited in their meaning and presentation. What caught my attention the most is the “Early Learning Counting Set,” where humans are the ones to be counted, all fitting into one truck at the same time. The characters are of all ages and nationalities, waiting in line for their turn to find their place in the world.
The last two windows
In the next display, the atmosphere changes a bit. We leave the room of horrors to find everyday objects completely revisited. Here we find the bullet-ridden bulletproof jacket worn by the famous British rapper Stormzy during the Glastonbury festival as a symbol of a wounded England. Underneath it, there are police helmets.
Next to it, another work catches our attention. A tombstone, with an epitaph written as in a video game that reads “Now you have reached your goal.” As if death could be compared to reaching the final level of a contemporary game and therefore to its arrival or victory.
Moving in line, for me in the rain, we arrive at the maximum representation of contemporary counterculture with the work The Clutch bag, where an everyday object is completely transformed: the women’s handbag. Banksy contrasts his work with the current fashion weeks and the system of fashion and contemporary art. He tries to use irony and highlight the main advantages of this object through the caption: the bag is useful for those who do not have much to carry, but also for those who need to hit someone with a brick. Although I am opposed to violence, who wouldn’t have wanted to have it with them at least once in their life?
Even art escapes from the walls in a nearby work where the snake frame almost magically abandons the painting and escapes from the wall.
The symbol of the installation work
At the center of this showroom display is the most representative work of the entire installation. A welcome mat made with parts of a black and orange life jacket. Its threads are used to write “Welcome” and act as a shoulder to the 55-inch TV that welcomes a child with open arms and transforms the television from an entertainment object into a form of art thanks to the artist’s passage.
Finally, Banksy does not limit himself to condemning the approximate use of his works for commercial purposes, but with a work called Banksquiat, he virtually defends another artist. The American writer and painter Basquiat, who died at the age of 28 due to AIDS and became an icon of American artistic culture.
The last display is connected to these works and collects a series of life jackets used by migrants rescued in the Mediterranean.
Banksy Gross Domestic Product | The message of the work
Banksy and his shop Gross Domestic Product consist of a denunciation of the current situation and the political and social position of European nations. So much so that the artist has declared that the proceeds from the online sales of the works exhibited in this special gallery behind closed doors will be donated to NGOs to purchase a new ship after the seizure by Italian authorities of some of those used to save human lives.
In my opinion, the idea is brilliant and the artist is no stranger to surprises like this. In fact, we could say that these make his works even more interesting. And they contribute to the media dissemination of his current and sincere vision of our society.
An action that makes us reflect on who we are, where we are going, and what values we want to transmit to future generations. In a context like that of Frieze Week, where sometimes we lose sight of the sincere interest in art. Art as a tool for human evolution and the growth of the individual and society.
However, not all aspects of the art fair are negative. On the contrary, in my opinion, this is an excellent opportunity to discover new developments in the artistic field. But I’ll talk to you about that in my next video and post.
Thanks and see you soon!!