The last day of August not only marked a day off work, another rainy London Monday and the end of summer 2015, but also the night that ArtAttack finally visited Banksy’s Dismaland Bemusement Park.
For those who don’t know, Dismaland is the infamous street artist’s latest project, an exhibition he’s curated that will be on view at the old Tropicana pool in Weston-Super-Mare for the next 5 weeks. As the name implies, this show takes the familiar theme park concept, and turns it upside down; Instead of a world where we can escape reality like its’ namesake, Disneyland, Dismaland sort of rubs reality in our face. It forces us to stop pretending the problems around us are not our problems and makes us reflect upon the consequences of inaction and indifference to global issues.
From the moment you enter Dismaland, you are made blatantly aware that you are part of the show. Staff members are as rude as possible, shouting at you to move faster, giving you the eye, asking me if I really couldn’t afford a pair of non-ripped jeans and even telling my boyfriend they wouldn’t let him in unless he wiped the smile off his face! Of course it’s all in good fun; It’s all part of the “dismal” experience, which only intensifies when you start looking around.
Picture the the all-too-familiar carnival game of steering remote controlled boats around a pond, only substitute the usual cute little sail boats, for bleak vessels packed tightly with migrant figurines. There’s also the classic hook-a-duck for visitors to play, only renamed “Hook a Duck from the Muck,” as the poor plastic creatures float aimlessly in filthy, polluted water. You can ride the merry-go-round, which spins ultra fast, accompanied by a sculpture of a butcher wielding a knife and sitting next to brown boxes marked “lasagna.” (Think back to the 2013 UK horse meat scandal.) Or for an extra chilling experience, enter a decrepid version of the iconic Disney castle only to find Cinderella’s been in an accident. The scene is terrifying — pumpkin carriage overturned, horses splayed on the ground, and Cinderella herself practically falling out of the broken carriage window, with only her faithful birds coming to her rescue. All the while paparazzi endlessly flashbulb the horrific scene, bringing to mind the fatal Paris car crash of Princess Diana.
For the more classically inclined, there is a gallery on site as well, although I’d be lying if I said there was anything truly classic inside.
Artists participating in the exhibition are hand picked by Banksy and include, aside from himself, Damien Hirst, Jenny Holzer, David Shrigley, Ben Long and Pure Evil, among others. Some fresher names who’s work we found especially powerful are Jessica Harrison, who did an incredible collection of dainty porcelain figurines covered in stunning and unexpected tattoos, and Paco Pomet, who’s painting of cookie monster riding along in a truck full of masked fighters, was one of our favourite works of the evening.
As the night wound down, we waited in a queue for the one show we had not yet seen, an exhibition inside a caravan entitled ‘Cruel Designs.’ From outside, I could see a screen depicting a pig being tortured, and as I turned my head away and tried to drown out the squeals, I quickly realised why all the food on-site is vegetarian.
There has been much talk in the media about whether or not Dismaland should really be considered art. Well, I am here to shout from the rooftops, that this show is nothing if not art. Is it gimmicky? Yes sure, but so too are Lucio Fontana slashes and Jackson Pollock splashes. Is it ultra political? Absolutely, but not any more so than 99% of the artwork at this year’s Venice Biennale. I suppose what make Dismaland so different is that it’s totally irreverent; It doesn’t take itself too seriously, in fact, it makes fun of itself. What could be more British?!
This exhibition is a fascinating and moving ride, and one that asks us a powerful question: what is the role we want to play in our world. Do we want to watch from the sidelines, or do we want to make things better. Topics tackled span from the environment, to student loans, torture, terrorism and everything in between. The work is special because it is so timely; it is really a critique of present day society as the artists see it.
I often wish that I had been present at the YBA’s first art show, Freeze, organised by Damien Hirst in 1988. It was radical and new and a demonstration by young artists making their mark on the world. I reckon Dismaland could be just as pivotal a show. But don’t take my word for it, experience the bemusement for yourself.
– India Irving
Banky’s Dismaland is on view in Weston-Super-Mare until 27th September, 2015; Marine Parade, BS23 1BE; Open Daily from 11AM-11PM; Standard Admission: £3; Book online HERE.