Street artist Banksy provides his latest contribution to the world of contemporary art in the form of a short-term ironic exhibition called ‘Dismaland’, hosted in the Somerset seaside town of Weston-super-Mare. In what he describes as a ‘Bemusement Park’, visitors are free to explore the interactive site. It features sculptures, pictures, fairground rides, and other quirky instalments produced by a myriad of artists. Each work portrays an individual message, generally to the tune of anti-establishment, anti-war or anti-capitalist notions. However, they all contribute to the overall theme of park: the futility and misery of Western society, which is executed with a satirical flair.
Ironically, Dismaland probably made the tired seaside venue less dismal. Normally, Weston-super-Mare’s most iconic attractions range from an overpriced Pier to a Greggs that you can sit down in while you eat. Nevertheless, Dismaland lives up to its name, with an admissions queue longer than the lunchtime line at the Marketplace. Once the wait is over, phony airport security style checks are done, where throughout the phrase ‘no smiling’ is uttered by the purposely miserable and snarky park staff.
On entry, we are told by another joyless employee to visit the castle first ‘or else we’d be waiting all day to get in’. The castle is essentially a derelict version of the signature Cinderella castle from Walt Disney World – already enough to make every school pupil doubt the existence of fairies. As you can probably guess, the inside of the castle makes no effort to restore the magic.
Visitors are ushered around a darkened room containing the crash scene of a pumpkin carriage, illuminated by a paparazzi flash strobe light. This seems to reference the tragic accident that caused the death of Princess Diana. The spectacle could also be likened to the behaviour of those who gawp at motorway incidents as they drive by. Dismaland is a creative car crash – Banksy provides an attraction that people don’t admit they want to see. There are even souvenir photographs on sale at the castle exit, safe to say that this time I am not a taker.
At the rear of the park is an outdoor cinema screen which displays a variety of short films. Some broadcast the same messages seen throughout the exhibits and others are alternative comedy. These are hit and miss, with the most memorable being the stark view of a woman’s face against a white backdrop, showing the aging process in an accelerated time-frame. The intention of this film is ambiguous; it may be to highlight our mortality and lack of control over the inevitable or possibly to display how the beauty in what’s real is often overlooked. I personally find it intriguing.
Other notable features of the Bemusement Park are a ‘mini-Gulf’ course (an oil caliphate themed crazy golf), a ‘pocketmoney loans for kids’ shop (to cover the market Wonga has previously overlooked), a Jimmy Savile themed Punch and Judy show (if the original show isn’t already bad enough), and my personal favourite: ‘The Astronaut’s Caravan’. This is a caravan pivoted on its front and back that rotates to simulate the feeling of a centrifuge, apparently. I had to try it out! Once inside the caravan it quickly becomes apparent that the guests are taken for a ride in a different sense. The caravan frame is rotated around a fixed bench merely to create the illusion of motion. I must admit I still get a thrill out of it, but I keep that to myself to avoid embarrassment. Of course since this is Dismaland, the attitude to refunds was a foregone conclusion, so I decide not to bother and instead put it down to experience.
Although the majority of exhibits are designed to be controversial in some way, in my opinion a few do overstep the mark and are unnecessarily insensitive. In particular, the remote control boat pond adapted to contain model boats packed with what I can only assume are Syrian refugees. By inserting one pound into the machine visitors can drive a boat around the pond, dodging drowned bodies floating in the water. I feel that, in this case, the exhibit does not raise the profile of this humanitarian crisis by treating it as a game. It should be dealt with in a hard-hitting but tasteful way.
That aside, I would definitely recommend a visit to Dismaland. Although it is not exactly a fun-filled day out, it is certainly a worthwhile and eye-opening experience. Moreover, these kinds of exhibitions only happen once in a blue moon. If you’re interested get in quick, because once the public viewings are over the works are likely to be sold off one by one to the millionaires they ridicule – the irony never ends!