September 23, 2015
Attaining a ticket to the must-see art exhibition of the year was a stroke of luck and as the date drew nearer, it was with a palpable sense of excitement that the trip to Weston-super-Mare was planned. But was it all worth it? Did Banksy himself make an appearance and what is actually held within this mystical place they call Dismaland?
The first thing to be noted as you step off the train in Weston-super-Mare is that this is not the sort of place on which you expect the world’s press to descend. This is your quintessential seaside town. In places a little worn at the edges but by and large, a well-loved town on the English coastline that brought many happy childhood memories to those who grew up nearby. Current attractions include pirate crazy golf and a whole host of impressive sand sculptures. And now, for just six weeks, Dismaland.
Banksy grew up in Bristol and used to visit Weston-super-Mare on holiday. He notes this in the programme for the experience, having peeked through the gates of the Tropicana, a disused lido, just six months previously. He wanted to bringing something back to a town that had brought him so much joy and what better way to do it than by making use of an existing venue that the local council have no idea what to do with?
As such, 58 artists were exhibited to display their work including Jimmy Cauty (whose model village is breathtaking in its scope and imagination), Jenny Holzer, Damien Hirst and of course Banksy himself, who provides ten different pieces for the area. It’s hard to properly explain what the attraction is like. Disnelyand, this is not. You enter through a cardboard security entrance, have a chance to go through a gallery area (where most of the artists’ work is on display) or can explore the park itself. Do you want to ride a spinning caravan? Attempt to ‘Topple the Anvil’ with 3 ping pong balls for a £1 (we tried and failed, earning ourselves a ‘Meaningless Rubber Band’ by artist David Shrigley in exchange for our efforts)? Visit a payday lender for kids? Or perhaps you want to watch the many brilliant short films including high-diving giraffes and an autopsy on a teddy bear. There is so much to see and do that you leave still wondering if you saw it all.
The appeal of Dismaland is a strange one; the staff (kitted out in Mickey/Minnie mouse ears) deliberately treat you with contempt in the main area and generally try and act as bored and useless as possible. Everything about it should result in you having an awful time but of course, there’s so much curiosity here that you are bound to have a good experience. Unless of course, you’re Jeffrey Archer, Baron Archer of Weston-super-Mare, having to watch one of your books being burned every night. Oh, artists can be so cruel.
What Banksy has done for the area is nothing short of remarkable. Experiencing a much-hyped event so far out of London (and not even in a city), is something that is admirable and endearing. The money it’s brought to this slice of English seaside is immeasurable and it’s brilliant seeing so many people interested in art. Whatever you think of Banksy, he breaks down boundaries in art and Dismaland was a truly unforgettable experience. If you’re lucky enough to get a ticket, amongst other things you could see an autopsy on a teddy bear or a grim reaper driving a dodgem. It’s an experience you’re unlikely to replicate in a long, long time.
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By Henry Fosdike