When it opened to a surprised public in late August, Banksy’s Dismaland was all over the British news. Some said the artist had become the gimmick themselves by harpooning the commercial world of theme parks in a way that arguably lacked depth and integrity. While Banksy’s work has always appealed to me (like most) it was more the appeal of the kitsch element of amusement parks that pulled me in. I am a massive fan of anything that if highly thematic, the most synthetic the better, With that in mind, an immersive sculpture art experience skewing the characteristics of the traditional British seaside experience in my old stomping ground of Somerset was hard to resist.
If you’ve never been to, or even heard of Weston-Super-Mare, it’s not that much of a surprise. Like many of the country’s former seaside hotspots, the 21st century has left Weston a bit rough around the edges. The beach is deep and windy – but refreshing and almost beautiful in the right light. Facing westerly into the coastline of Wales creates a dimensional background and the chance for ambiance creating sundowns.
We arrived a bit earlier than our 7pm tickets so wandered up and down the promenade before joining the queue. While it was quite long, it moved quickly due to the relatively high capacity of Dismaland. There were around 30 people hoping the ticket office would magically open to sell some tickets on the spot, but these were all allocated first thing in the morning.The site itself is the old Weston-Super-Mare lido, it’s years of lying derelict adds to the looks of squalor, while the signage used is a clear parody of the Disneyland typeface.
To entry, you have to go through a security check consisting of cardboard scanners and pissed of guards. My friend got interrogated for a few minutes for being too happy but I entered unscathed.
Entering the park I was amazed at just how full and thorough the park was – the magic castle sits front and center but the whole site was covered in sculptures and attractions.
Being a massive Little Mermaid fan. I of course loved the distorted Ariel sitting within the moat. The entrance also had some crappy park roundabouts that I had a go on – below you can witness my sheer joy, which classed as an act of rebellion to the pessimistic theme.
Throughout the park there were murals and illustrations on the walls, including the back of the entrance.
Dismaland was first and foremost an art exhibition, so we headed to the extensive gallery to the left of the site. This comprised of four different rooms, the first dark with light displays, a dancing grim reaper on a dodgem, and takeaway plant pots. The center rooms were more traditional with a selection of pieces by different artists, including my favourite piece comprising of tattooed porcelain dolls by Jessica Harrison.
On leaving the gallery it was nearly dark and the park was alight with neon and illuminations. We walked around looking at all the sculptures, installations and rides, each with it’s own twist such as the boating lake of asylum seekers and the carousel horse strung up for lasagne.
Other features of the site include a ‘Mini Gulf’ course, fairground competitions where slices of meat could be won instead of goldfish, and an open air cinema showing short films by different artists.
In the fair right corner of the park was another set of galleries focusing on protest art which proved very popular with the crowds. This includes displays of some of the best signs and political art from different causes and demonstrations.
There was so much to explore and discover at Dismaland we weren’t quite prepared for it and had to rush around to make our plans in Bath that night, however I glad I managed to make it as it was such a unique experience. Visiting at in the evening meant we got the best of both worlds with daylight turning into night time and the park lit up like the subversive fairground it was. Climbing up to the rooftop bar gave a great view to survey the immensity of the site, and makes you understand the appeal of the scheduled djs and bands throughout the opening season.
Another regret I have is not taking the chance to buy one of the iconic imbecile balloons.
While Dismaland closed it’s doors today, I’m sure Banksy is preparing for their next secret and subversive project. Overall, it was a great and unique experience that pulled together culture and kitsch perfectly.