Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A dismal day

This bank holiday weekend, a group of us decided to visit Banksy's Dismaland, located in the obscure seaside town of Weston Super-Mare. It began with an overcomplicated plan that involved lugging our hungover selves to Heathrow airport to rent a car (in which we squeezed 8 passengers), then setting off onto the rainy motorway and stopping off for a pub lunch in Bath before continuing onto WSM. It ended with frolic, fatigue, and us having a nickname for absolutely everything, notably our driver Ian (pilot), lead passenger Tina (co-pilot), and passenger who never knew where we were going but provided useful insight along the way, Timmy (co-co pilot). The rest of us left navigation in the hands of the experts while enjoying Heart FM blasting from the radio.

I didn't have very high expectations for Dismaland before we arrived. To me, it seemed like a bit of a media stunt with a very overstated message, by an artist who is normally renowned for his wit and subtlety. I had also read a scathing review of the 'bemusement park' which filled me with doubts. Bearing all this in mind, however, worked well for me, because I left pleasantly surprised with what I found beyond the bleak gates of this derelict - and indeed rather dismal - site.

What Banksy has created here is an expression of a world-view that challenges that of its real-life counterpart, Disneyland. Here, the bleak 21st-century realities of surveillance, oppression and popular culture are laid bare for our observation. And unlike an amusement park, where cheap thrills offer customers a distraction from the outside world of these realities, Banksy's park is designed to remind us of society's failures. If Disneyland is the ultimate portrait of fantasy, Dismaland is a brutal representation of reality.

Anyone expecting an actual theme park experience will be disappointed with Dismaland. This is a modern art exhibition, using the framework of an amusement park to access its audience. Once you realise that this is a parody of a park, and not by any means a park itself, the tongue-in-cheek messages Banksy and other artists are trying to send come across much more clearly.

There were a few things in particular which caught my eye. The picture above highlights one of the 'main' attractions; a grotesque image of Cinderella leaning dead out of her toppled carriage with eerily life-like paparazzi photographing her. Ironically, visitors stood behind the 'paparazzi' taking photos of the scene from their phones and cameras. This jeer at popular culture and our obsession with hounding celebrities (even driving them to their deaths) is even more relevant with the recent release of Amy which I've written about.

I also really enjoyed the main galleries for their showcase of varied modern paintings and art prints. Close by, Jimmy Cauty's 'model village' was on display - a highly detailed miniature of a dystopian, police-run city, that took years to complete and was nothing short of impressive. The outdoor cinema was a great spot to sit back and watch some excellent animated shorts. I would've sat there for ages if it wasn't for the cold creeping in.

While I don't necessarily think this is Banksy's greatest work, it's giving people access to an alternative aesthetic; unusual pieces of work that embody their own anti-establishment message. I think it's good for people to see something like this for the non-restrictive price tag of £3. I really enjoyed immersing myself in this weird (and often true) world, and what better place to present weirdness than at a twisted fairground in Weston Super Mare?

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