On our first trip together we went to New York City and accidentally stumbled upon Banksy’s moving art installation aimed at McDonald’s. Then as we were about to embark on our South East Asian voyage, my aunt Clare gave me a going away card with Banksy art on the cover. So when we heard the clandestine street artist with a conscience was putting on his largest scale show to date, how could we resist?
E: So, on a particularly lovely summer day, we hopped on a bus headed towards the English West 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 castle and the tinny sound of lackadaisical Hawaiian music floated by. It was Dismaland: Bemusement Park, an interactive art exhibition and the brainchild of Banksy.
The whole show is an experience, and it begins before entering the park. The meandering metal maze of guardrails one must weave through is comically long. A sign on the port-a–potty reads 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.
Once inside the front door you go through cardboard security checks, some get intensely interrogated as to what exactly their hair scrunchy or whatever the chosen item is, and then you are free to enter the most dismal place on earth. It looks derelict, dusty, and full of long lines; a long forgotten and unloved theme park staffed by subjugated slaves moping about halfheartedly.
It was a very eclectic crowd queued up for the various exhibits and activities. All ages and fashion styles milled about, 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), some taking one of the many beach seats and soaking it all in, 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 sat 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. Subtlety, I’m sure, was not the aim.
All in all I quite enjoyed our day down at Dismaland and our exploration of the pier (just love those penny falls!) and Bristol that followed. Just a few days left to see it before it’s unhappily ever after.
M: What to say about Dismaland… The whole park is designed to underwhelm and disappoint. It was an interesting scene just brimming with political and social commentary. Many of the exhibits were very simple and blunt; there wasn’t too much left to the imagination. While it wasn’t flashy, and certainly one did not go there for the rides (though there actually were a few), I would say it delivered what it aimed to and did not disappoint (if you understand that aim).
The array of art ranged from jabs at current politicians, socio-economic inequalities of our society, and even down to the more heart wrenching refugee crisis that is just easier for us all not to think about. And therein lies what I feel was the heart and intent of this exhibit: to make us all think. We all know there is something wrong, we just don’t know how to fix it or even where to start. And I think that was my favourite piece of the day: Unfuck the System.