*Dismal here meaning AWESOME!
Last month as you may have heard Bristol-bred Banksy staged a secret (well up until the week before) art installation at Weston Super Mare, the beach town near Bristol where he spent many summers growing up. Dismaland featured works from 58 artists and was a ‘Bemusment Park’ a play on Disneyland and other over-hyped tourist corporations.
Banksy himself described it as, “a festival of art, amusements and entry-level anarchism” adding: “This is an art show for the 99% who’d rather be at Alton Towers.”
Dismaland was typical Banksy, politicised art with a social message – I loved it! I know that by going part of the joke was on me but I could deal with that. I agreed with so many of the points it was making and the presentation of it was so interesting and entertaining.
Here’s a glimpse into our trip. Pre-warning it’s a photo heavy post and due to trying to take photos at night on an iPhone some of them aren’t the best quality – apologies in advance!
After seeing the famous Dismaland sign over the entrance to what used to be the Tropicana outdoor swimming pool we progressed with the queue through Bill Barminski’s ‘security’. To ensure that the experience is fully immersive all of the Dismaland staff are volunteers who are told to be grumpy, unhelpful and even borderline rude to the visitors. So during security we were shouted at, told not to smile or laugh (impossible) and generally abused (gently) as we passed through the cardboard metal detectors. The whole set tup was hilarious – constructed of cardboard and all black and white. Even the hats the ‘Security Guards’ wore were made of cardboard. I didn’t get a shot of this part – I was too intimidated haha!
Once inside we were presented with the famous view of Cinderella’s ruined castle (the Disneyland one but much darker) and Banksy’s statue of the Little Mermaid. I was so excited to see this, she’s my favourite Disney character and I was keen to see his distorted version. Lots of the walls were covered with topical/political/miserable graffiti and street art (like the one above) these were great. It was funny that they employed an almost mid-century advertisement aesthetic to them which made them seem so cheery until you read them.
(Image taken from The Guardian)
First we went into ‘The Galleries’ (number 1 on the map). First you walk into a pitch black room (past the cheery security guard from the first picture) there are light-art installations and an animation of famous brand logos and cartoon characters merging into each other. The highlight of the first room was Banksy’s Dance of Death, in a silent, dark corner of the room is an abandoned bumper car circuit. Then, suddenly strobe lights come on and the sound of the Bee Gees’ Staying Alive blasts out. Out comes a huge figure of Death riding a bumper car and choreographed to spin and move to the music. So surreal and actually almost a little creepy when he loomed right over us.
On to the next room packed full of artwork from most of the non-Bansky exhibitors. It was all so interesting. Particular favourites of mine were the ‘post-apocalyptic’ Disneyland paintings complete with tiny stickers of different Disney characters. There was also a Damien Hirst installation of a beach ball floating (via a jet of air) over steak knives.
This painting was of my favourites. I can’t remember who it was by – sorry! But it’s of children playing on a beach with what I assume is radioactive waste. The painting technique was so amazing that in person it actually looked like it was glowing.
Above is a display case of model mice babies growing human ears on their backs – so creepy but, let’s be honest, not science fiction.
Finally we went to the ‘Model Village’ by artist Jimmy Cauty. A huge post-riot model town. Populated with tonnes of police and media and with creepy graffiti on the walls saying things like “Jimmy made me do it” there was even a mini set of the Royal Family, being evacuated by the RAF. It was huge and showed not only a ruined town but also the surrounding countryside. I could have stayed in there for an hour but we were ushered along at a good pace to stop massive queues forming. It was complete with flickering lighting, the sound of police radios, hovering helicopters, sirens, a church on fire and a model policeman falling off the edge of the platform.
The top image above is one of the pieces from ‘The Galleries’ and the bottom is a pretty poignant bit of graffiti about the widening class/economic gap. It was placed over a pond with a half sunken speedboat in it.
How horrid is this Banksy of seagulls attacking a woman? It reminds me of Hitchcock’s The Birds, and plays on my fear of birds.
The oil spill hook a duck complete with a children’s electric toy duck. The prize for anyone lucky enough to hook one is a fish finger in a bag.
This element of fun and games was what I loved most about Dismaland, it was a completely immersive experience nothing like any art exhibition I’d been to before. That’s the point as Banksy knew this kind of show wouldn’t work in a museum. Other fairground attractions included ‘Topple the Anvil with a ping pong ball’, a carousel with one of the horses strung up from the ceiling by a butcher sitting on a box of lasagnes (hello horse meat scandal), a dodgy looking ferris wheel and a NASA space flight simulator (a tiny caravan with a NASA sticker on it that span in circles). There was also back of the head caricature artist and people wondering around in character. I’d heard of fake Storm Troopers and Occupy Protesters, we didn’t see those but we did encounter some hilarious fake St Johns Ambulance people. They were brandishing a severed finger asking if anyone had lost it.
I couldn’t resist the opportunity to be part of a Banksy.
Next we went into the ‘Circus Tent’ (number 16 on the map), it was filled with terrifying china with mouths and hands coming out of them – think Pink Floyd’s The Wall. And fake taxidermy made from amazingly detailed textiles, like this fellow below.
There was another Damien Hirst in there of a picked unicorn. The highlight of this section was the fed up park attendant outside telling us to line up next to the fence. As she put it ‘it’s the white thing that looks like a fence’
I was really glad that we’d booked an evening slot. Once it got dark all the lights came on and everything felt even more special.
Tom having a dismal time.
The view over the park, rickety ferris wheel included.
We queued for the Pocket Money loans place outside of which was a sandpit complete with attendant. He was so grumpy (in character) that when some little girls made a sandcastle in front of him he got up, stomped on it and walked off.
The pocket money loans place was filled with clever posters, the idea was a payday loans company but aimed at children. It advertised things like sugary sweets (because it’s illegal to give kids drugs) shiny bits of plastic, pro-ageing creams and bouncy castle mortgages. The floor of this porta-cabin was a bouncy castle and they sold fake toys such as ‘post traumatic stress action man’ a disabled action man in a wheelchair with the tagline ‘his legs really don’t work!’ and a pregnant doll ‘now baby has a baby too!’.
As a huge fan of the Blackfish documentary I had to take a photo with this guy. He’s jumping out of a toilet into a paddling pool.
We queued for what felt like forever for a bus mounted library filled with stats, quotes, stories and tools of mass control. For example anti-homeless spikes, riot gear and high pitched noises to stop loitering teenagers. The van was fascinating – easily my favourite part of the trip, and so educational. It explained how governments often tested the techniques in a different form on animals first, then developed the laws to allow them to be used on their people. A timeline showed how these forms of government control are getting harsher and more widespread. There was a particularly disturbing section of the bus which showed footage taken from animal slaughter houses. Perhaps to remind us how desensitised we are to many forms of control and cruelty, both to animals and our fellow man.
‘Guerilla Island’ (number 4) featured a ‘Comrades Advice Bureau’ of anarchistic, feminist and other non-conformist literature. There was a ‘No Borders’ bookshop and you could purchase the £5 billboard marketing toolkit. It was a set of Alan keys to open billboard covers and replace the posters. The same as used by the guys who re-made the London MET adverts.
As the night began drawing to a close we went into a tent full of guerrilla protest art, placards and posters used for various public demos. Some funny, some angry, some poignant and some seemingly pointless (like the below). above are some of the ones I found most interesting. The ‘don’t kill the animals anymore’ one really got me, it’s clearly made by a child and barely stood out amongst the huge, colourful banners.
We had saved Cinderella’s castle for last. I had already heard what was inside there but still thought it would be a good way to end our tour of the exhibits.
Inside is a pitch black room illuminated only by camera flashes. They show the mangled crash of Cinderella’s pumpkin, the dead princess slumped out of the window with her bluebirds tugging at her dress ribbons. The room is silent but for the sound of camera flashes going off. The cameras being held by helmeted paparazzi fresh off their mopeds.
The point behind this piece was clear. I still remember the day I was told of the death of Princess Diana, and even as an adult the circumstance about that night, particularly about the paparazzi, are still shocking. This piece left me silent – even though I knew what to expect.
(The burnt out Ice Cream truck sells the programmes – the ‘Dismal’ worker is so fed up you have to place the money in her hand as she won’t take it from you. Also apologies for the duplicated Castle pic – oops!)
To round of the night we got a beer and sat in deckchairs to watch a series of short films played from a shipping container stage. It was the perfect end to the evening, surrounded by the bright lights watching (some mildly disturbing) beautifully shot films. Eventually at around 11pm we reluctantly had to leave. We’d have stayed for longer if it wasn’t a work night, there was an amazing smelling stonebaked pizza teepee restaurant and another bar that would have been fun to spend time in. Alas it wasn’t to be. But we don’t feel like we missed out at all.
All I can say is that I wish it wasn’t temporary but all good things must come to an end. I hope this post has given you a flavour of what it was like if you didn’t get a chance to go. If you have any questions or would like to know more just comment below.
Finally, if you didn’t already think Banksy was amazing then have you heard? He’s given all the timber and fittings used to create Dismaland to ‘The Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais which houses people who’ve fled war-torn countries including Syria, they’ve even erected a sign above it called Dismal Aid. Another reason to love him (if you needed another)
And of course we had to…
Love Sarah x