Banksy’s Dismaland: all the glum of the fair

It’s like Stalin’s NKVD have been reborn.

‘Don’t smile!’ snapped the young woman at the airport-style entry to paradise complete with cardboard full-body scanner. Of course, you smile, especially having waited hours to get in. I was delirously chuffed. Again, she growled: ‘Don’t smile!’

The tone was set.

Dismaland The amazing thing about Banksy’s show is – whatever you think of him – Dismaland has sparked creativity and spurred a wondrous joy in, of all places, woozy, snoozy Weston-super-Mare, Zummerzet.

The origin of Jeffrey Archer, home of donkeys, a sea that retreats so far that you can barely see it but, thankfully, no longer a 50s kiss-me-quick throwback.

It’s not just Dismaland that’s doing the gags either. The snidery in cidery Bristol-by-Sea has travelled further afield.

Best joke of the lot for me was a friend’s friend’s comment on Facebook: ‘Oi, Banksy, we did all this 30 years ago. It was called Barry Island.’Banksy at Dismaland

Then my pal Martin, spotting one of the miserable curators sidling up to him next to one artwork which is at the bottom of a small pool, in effect a mosaic, said: ‘So, this is a watercolour?’

‘Ah, yes, sir, very funny,” said the drone.

Anyway, well worth going and if you are, maybe you’re better off not reading any further, as the following might spoil a few surprises. Which would be a shame.

Queue, what a torture

Dismaland Jessica Harrison
Tattooed porcelain figure by Jessica Harrison, featuring tattoos in Russian

Now the online ticketing is working it is not worth travelling far – as I did from Cardiff – to pick up tickets on the gate.

It was three and a half hours before I got in. One hundred tickets became available at 12.50pm. Missed out on them. And then a spare turned up an hour letter and I grabbed that, for £3. People in the next tranche of patient trippers waited almost four-and-a-half hours for tickets at the kiosk.They got in, but deserve a medal.

It IS worth the wait, but you may, quite reasonably, think otherwise. Especially if it rains.

Gulag Weston

An art-craft lecturer pal hates Banksy’s stuff, his students love it, but the four hours here were endlessly absorbing.

If you had to come up with a description of the work on show, mine would be post-apocalypse punk art. God knows how the former lido location has passed health and safety stuff, perhaps the council are getting round to an inspection on the last day. It seems safe but cleverly suggests that it might not be.

It reminded me quite a lot of the crumbling infrastructure and general disarray in Ukraine, when I lived there. The customer service was straight out of Kyiv, that’s for sure.

The concrete looks like it’s got cancer and, if not already diagnosed, it needs a check-up.

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The calculated, crafted corporate schmaltz of Disney is gutted, garotted and tossed in the gutter where the artists – and the visceral hate cannot be mistaken for anything else – clearly think it belongs.

‘Cinderella’/Princess Di is dead in her pumpkin carriage, as are her horses, and the paparazzi are snapping away merrily.

The deathless charms of funfair sideshows are parodied brilliantly. They are also rigged so you can’t win – that’s my theory anyway.

Donald Duck lies among old tyres. Buddleia sprouts from behind a corrugated iron wall that features David Cameron with a glass of wine.

Punch and Judy, written by Julie Burchill, featured a hard-to-make-out Punch and maybe went on too long but perhaps I’d become a bit docile and listless after being doused in bad music and mediocre art.

Dismaland takes elements of British seaside entertainments, which resonate with all our lives, and destroys them but at the same time we still like what we see even though it’s scabby, almost joyless, and inane. The decaying 20p child rides still spark warm feelings of nostalgia. The carousel is beautiful and macabre.

The show’s corrosive cynicism is directed at the plastic entertainment industry – itself even more cynical – and its controlling, deeply manipulative and shallow version of what a family day out has become. The underlying marketing darkness is hidden – here it’s stripped down to what Banksy and fellow exhibitors think it really is.

And they truly, deeply really hate it.

Dismaland shooting gallery
‘Shoot some tin, win some bling’

Bing-bong

The dreary, aimless music over the tannoy stays just the right side of being tolerable without ever being remotely enjoyable or invigorating. It never threatens to develop into a good groove. Quite a difficult aspect of the show to get right.

Every so often the loudspeakers emit a ‘bing-bong’ and a homily/philosophical entreaty is intoned as though by a catatonic parrot. I noted the following:

  • Crime against property is relatively unimportant
  • Being alone with yourself is increasingly unpopular
  • If you behaved nicely the communists wouldn’t exists
  •  Sense of timing is the mark of a genius

Eat your heart out Travolta

I liked this the most:

Grim and groovy!

Get outta here

IMG_2779At 6pm sharp, the afternoon visitors have to leave.

The final cold, robotic bing-bong comes over the tannoy and a terminally depressed voice intones: ‘Dismaland is closed, Dismaland is closed.

‘Go home. Go home. Now!’

The show runs until September 27. Tickets here: http://www.dismaland.co.uk/ – already sold out until September 7.

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