One summer day, I embarked on a journey towards the English Western Coast. From London to Bristol and then on to Marina-Super-Mare. The bus on the final stretch was filled with silver foxes and the boardwalk was equally abuzz with the sound of motorized wheelchairs and scrapes of walking sticks. Beyond the crowd of retirees rose a turret from a distant dismal castle and the tinny sound of lackadaisical Hawaiian music floated forward. It was Dismaland: Bemusement Park, an interactive art exhibition and the brainchild of Banksy, the graffiti artist known for spraying social commentary.
The experience begins before even entering the park. The metal maze of guardrails one must weave through is comically long. A sign on the port-a–potty explains the CCTV cameras are for research purposes only. Once inside, the surly staff play their roles of disenfranchised disdain, muttering “have a horrible day” and “stop smiling” along with eye rolls and elongated sighs.
After going through the cardboard security checks you enter into the most dismal place on earth. A very eclectic crowd queues up for various exhibits or activities, some holding balloons with “I’m an imbecile” (not sure if it was coincidence, but everyone I saw with a balloon also had a baby or small child nearby), while others strolled around sipping beer. Part art, part experience, part day out doing something different.
At the centre sat the signature castle, looking very worse from wear. To one side is an overturned police riot truck fountain. To the other, a twisted truck looking like a Transformer who got drunk and forgot halfway how to transform. There were “games” such as knock an anvil over with a ping pong ball and “rides” like a rotating caravan, where you get strapped in and the exterior moves while you remain in one place.
Often in my social news feed I’ll find a link to some article depicting childhood cartoons as they would be now, or the after the happily ever after, or the what they’d really look like today. Scattered throughout Dismaland one gets glimpses. Donald Duck lies dirty in an overturned shopping cart surrounded by trash, Mickey Mouse is swallowed by a snake in a sculpture, and in one of the film pieces Dumbo gets shot down by what look like IS-like militants. Then there’s what’s inside the castle. Upon entering the final scene of Cinderella is playing in the corner, then around the corner a dead blonde princess hangs from a car…er…pumpkin crash surrounded by snapping paparazzi.
VICE knocked the exhibit and Banksy for being too obvious. But, I’m not sure subtlety was the aim. Among the horses on the carousel was a mannequin in a haz-mat suit sitting on boxes labeled lasagna in front of a carousel horse strung up like in a butcher shop. Again, doesn’t take much to connect the dots and don’t think they were attempting obscure references. Besides, at this point in time, perhaps the world doesn’t need subtle. The installations featuring refugees in boats surrounded by floating dead bodies just days after the image of three-year-old Alayn Krudi’s body being carried ashore made you stop and think. Are long debates over interpretation required? No. But hopefully it sparks debates about what it’s yelling, with the hope that talk leads to action.
Did I love every piece? No. But when does one go into a gallery and come out oooohing and ahhhing about every single piece? That’s one of the great things about art: it holds different appeal to different people and therefore can ignite conversation.
Social commentary aside, there were also elements that were just fun. It was an enjoyable day doing something different down by the seaside. And we totally lucked out with weather and somehow got a little bit of a sunburn in England in September. How bizarre.
Dismaland runs until September 25th, with live performances every Friday night (if you’re around, check out Pussy Riot performing on the closing weekend). Find information on tickets and how to get there here.