Oh, I am not sure what to write. There are a lot of reviews by experts and want-to-be experts floating around the internet and it is difficult to contribute anything new, or a radically different point of view; plus, I am not sure I want to join in on all that anyway. So no worries, I will not try to compete, and simply document my own experience.
Dismaland is a temporary art exhibition in the form of a theme-park, organised by famous graffiti artist Banksy. The name says it all really: it is intended as a “a sinister twist on Disneyland”. No doubt it is a commentary on the flaws of modern society, bursting the fairytale bubble and revealing what is behind happy Facecook facades.
I have already read a number of reviews by journalists complaining that it is too blatantly obvious (because art is only allowed to be confusing nowadays?) and that the exhibition is aimed at entertaining ‘edgy’ teenagers and amateur photographers who think they appreciate art (because they do not?). Well, I will join those who say that negative reviews are all part of the intended experience – and I went to have a look anyway.
First things first: this dystopian themepark is located in Weston-super-mare. Where? A small and uneventful seaside town near Bristol, named from the Latin super Mare: upon the sea – nowadays entirely miss-pronounced of course. It is also a four hour drive from Cambridge, which is where I was coming from.
After re-freshing the professionally constructed and tested Dismaland website (…) for about an hour and a half, my friend Charlie and I managed to grab four valuable tickets. They were all sold out for the entire week an hour later. If I had any sense for business I would have sold them on E-bay of course; but, I do not. Being friendly Cambridge cyclists, none of us own a car, so we rushed to rent one… and raced out of Cambridge at 4pm. Heading towards appropriately dark and gloomy clouds of course. Amidst downpour #2 we got a little lost, saw some of the English countryside, and had to track back to the motorway… which meant we made it to WSM for about 8pm. Three hours to enjoy Dismaland.
Sadly, I had to replace the body of my camera last week and I am still struggling getting the settings right on this new one. I am really upset I was not able to take better photos, because with only three hours to enjoy the artworks in person, I would have rather liked to be able to look at some of it again for a bit longer at home.
For some reason there were long lines to go inside some exhibits so while the last sunlight was quickly disappearing we started by just having a wander around outside. My friends thought it was meant to be part of the depressing experience of Dismaland, to queue, but I think it is just typically British. Unfortunately (?) I also did not find the place terribly miserable; it was amusing, and made me giggle. Immature reaction? The intended reaction? Am I over-thinking things? The ‘security guard’ at the entrance asked my friend whether she had any of the items listed as not allowed; she said she did not have a horse on her; to which the ‘guard’ responded ‘no we mean unicorns of course’. I found it very hard to keep a straight face. This particular exhibit was designed by Bill Barminski; an artistic commentary on today’s insane security obsession. (Apologies; no photo.)
Another exhibit was the ‘Topple the Anvil’ variation of the classic fairground game by David Shrigley. The gloomy Dismaland worker threw a few bouncy balls around my friend, which she then had to collect from the ground, before throwing them at an anvil. If you topple it, you win the anvil. Always wanted one of those as a bedside table… She got a consolation price however, which was a little rubber bracelet with the text ‘meaningless rubber bracelet’. Of course at funfairs it is always frustratingly impossible to get all the tins of the shelf; you never get your money’s worth in prizes; and you do not really want to drag the prizes home anyway. Besides that, the anvil suggests the impossibility and futility of moving something so large, heavy and solid. What exactly? The world’s problems?! We will have to ask Shrigley. His website reads “No more weak messages. No more bad situations.”
Now for a few pieces I did photograph (albeit not very well). I enjoyed the ‘angry feminist posters’ by Wasted Rita (Rita Gomes). She has described the texts as ‘a free psychiatric appointment with myself’. I did some googling to find out more and I cannot say I am a big fan of all of her drawings, but her shop is very cool.
Staying on the topic of texts. I discovered Darren Cullen and his ‘spellingmistakescostlives‘. He has an Etsy shop too. Tucked away in a corner there were posters stating “make stuff dead” and post-cards with phrases such as “I got a one way ticket to party town, but in retrospect I should have got a return because it’s cheaper than two singles”. (So true; when I want to go Cambridge-London-Stansted it is cheaper to buy Cambridge-London return and Cambridge-Stansted return. Honestly.) He also makes anti-army comics.
I also liked ‘Guerilla Island’, where in a tent ‘Syrian revolution posters’ by Fares Cachoux were on display. The one I took a picture of is titled ‘The Fifth Speech’: “On 3 June 2012 Syrian president Bashar al-Assad delivered his fifth speech since the outbreak of the revolution: a speech that put an end to all hopes of him abandoning office peacefully, as it became clear that the situation in Syria could only move from bad to worse“. Practising my Arabic, I deciphered other posters with the text ‘Daʿesh’, ‘Homs’, and ‘Al-Nusra’. Very simple, very clear, and very powerful.
Inside the ‘gallery’ I found photographs by Brock Davis (itistheworldthatmadeoyousmall). On ‘broccoli house’ he comments “I wasn’t able to build my son a treehouse, so I built him this broccoli house instead”; things do not have to be complicated. His art focusses on providing new perspectives of everyday objects. His project ‘make something cool every day‘ is definitely worth having a look at; he covers pretty much every art-form and topic, from pixel art to… his own daughter.
By far my favourite artwork at Dismaland were the paintings by Laura Lancaster. She uses very broad brush strokes in soft colours; simple backgrounds, complicated foregrounds. It is not possible to see the expressions of the characters in the paintings, but you can feel them. I am incredibly impressed, and if I ever get to be one of those people with an art collection, this will be at the top of my list. You can look at it and always see something different, and always keep contemplating. I tried to google the specific paintings which I loved to see if they had a story; but nothing came up. I suppose it is more thrilling to leave them a mystery anyway.
Finally, I want to mention a piece by Banksy. At a lot of themeparks and funfairs you can play with remote-controlled boats. Banksy re-interpreted this as remote-controlled migrant-boats. It is possible to chase them with police-boats, and race them against each other. A very, very dark message. In fact, on April 21 the Guardian published an article on the subject: “A giant paper boat? Art’s response to migrant drownings should be way more aggressive“. Did Banksy already develop the exhibit then, or was this the inspiration? In any case, I am writing about this mirror of social policy on the same day another boat carrying 500 migrants sinks near the coast of Libya…
When the crowds slowly began to vanish from Dismaland, we had a chance to take a final stroll around the deserted fairground. It is a lot more impressive when there are not 4,000 people taking selfies around. Also part of the concept? Still over-thinking it? We braved the 4 hour drive back home; bed at 3:30am. Definitely worth it.