Banksy’s new project Dismaland, the self-proclaimed “most disappointing new visitor attraction” in the UK, has opened in Weston-Super-Mare. It’s housed in the old Tropicana, which has been derelict since 2000, and this run-down spot is the perfect venue for the Dismaland “bemusement park”.
Curated by Banksy, but with contributions from over 50 other artists, this installation – which closes on 27 September – highlights some political and social issues, while also taking the Mickey out of Disneyland and other theme parks.
Most notably, there are the Dismal staff, in their black mouse ears, who are miserable, rude and unhelpful. As you go in, through Bill Barminski’s cardboard security room – I was asked if I had any hand grenades – you are told not to smile and not to enjoy it.
At one of the many games, Hook A Duck From The Muck (the centrepiece is a bird covered in oil), the young woman running the stall was fantastic, shrugging her shoulders and dismissively throwing the prize – a cardboard cut-out fishfinger in a bag – at the winners:
Elsewhere, in David Shrigley’s game, you can win an anvil if you manage to knock one off a pedestal with three ping-pong balls. Or take control of a gunship and drive into boats overflowing with migrants, or even into dead bodies floating in the water, in one of Banksy’s own creations, highlighting the current crisis in the Mediterranean.
Banksy also takes on the use of killer whales for entertainment, and the paparazzi who, inside the shabby, decaying castle that is the centrepiece of the park, are taking photos of Cinderella’s dead body as she hangs limply out of a upturned carriage. But he’s in more lighthearted mood elsewhere, with the Grim Reaper riding a dodgem to a Bee Gees song, which is very funny (even The Guardian‘s Jonathan Jones, in his predictably negative review, admitted he got “a half laugh” out of this).
The buildings look dirty, the floors are broken and uneven, children’s rides are rusted and neglected, the ice cream van is burnt out. The tannoy doesn’t work properly. There’s a Jeffrey Archer Memorial Fire Pit which “burns one of the famed local perjurer’s novels” every day. The park’s fountain is smashed, so the only working fountain is from the water cannon in an armoured police vehicle. The carousel includes a knife-wielding figure sat on boxes of lasagne, one of the horses strung up behind him.
Jimmy Cauty’s vast model village – not a model setting at all, but reveals a very heavy police presence in the aftermath of some civil unrest – is very impressive. There’s so much to see it’s almost impossible to take it all in, but the attention to detail is incredible. Here, one Dismal guide was telling everyone to move along as there was nothing to see in this horrible place. One of the highlights was the Circus Tent, a dark (in every way) freak show which includes Ronit Baranga’s creepy ceramics and Scott Hove’s monstrous Predator-like heads – a mix of horns, teeth and elaborately iced cakes.
In The Galleries, I liked Paco Pomet’s paintings, Jessica Harrison’s tattoo-covered Royal Doulton-style figurines and Brock Davis’ playful food-based work. Of the outdoor, large-scale pieces, Ben Long’s scaffold stallion and Mike Ross’ dancing juggernauts stood out:
The grimy, forlorn feel is captured in a way that is amusing and enjoyable to discover and experience. It’s been cleverly thought-out and it’s huge fun. The Dismal staff deserve a lot of credit for what they add to the whole thing – their sullen, unsmiling misery is a joy.
Some may wonder whether bag searches and £40 Dismaland hoodies are entirely in keeping with some of the messages in Banksy’s work. But six years on from Banksy versus Bristol Museum, it’s great to have him back in this neck of the woods with a significant project. It’s just about the hottest ticket in town at the moment (if you book online in advance, getting in is fairly straightforward) and I would really recommend it.