The Wonderfully Dismal Kingdom of Banksy

Banksy has ventured into the entertaining resort business. One that would possibly be your last resort.

A scathing social and political critique of any number of targets that routinely come under the purview of this artist/curator/commentator/showman, this big tent brings everyone inside for a beating. Rampant capitalism, civic hypocrisy, the war industry, advertising deceit, an encroaching police state, environmental destruction, the widening gap in social equality, xenophobia with its inherent racism, and our insatiable penchant for sunny denial are a partial list of woes addressed. If you don’t feel sickened or guilty after visiting Dismaland perhaps you could affect a certain smugness that says, “Finally, someone is talking about all of these important issues that I’ve been going on about.”

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Banksy. Dismaland. Weston-super-Mare, UK. (photo © Butterfly)

Cheerfully cynical and sarcastic, this magic kingdom is most successful when you are challenged to reconsider a behavior or position – and with 50 or so invited co-exhibitionists, some whose bodies of work are substantial on their own, Banksy clearly intends to challenge you and indict you with a relentless barrage of over-the-top funhouse symbolism and metaphor. If, for example, you are enthralled by those American right-wing Christian Halloween “Hell House” installations that feature pregnant teen girls in stirrups and sallow-faced gay HIV-positive patients in hospital beds you’ll cherish the harrowing Banksy path to salvation. Alas, there may be no salvation, sorry.

Here you can see bright yellow bathtub ducks swimming in an oil spill, there you can play paparazzi with the other flashing bulbs recording Cinderalla’s overturned carriage crash. Next, get a load of the toy boats dangerously overloaded with refugees and the knife-wielding butcher eye-balling the horses he’s riding with on the merry-go-round. If Disneyland clobbers you with candy-covered bromides and implausibly rosy fantasy, Dismaland brings you to the edge of the abyss of man’s folly and gently nudges you to fall into it. Or jump.

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Banksy. Dismaland. Weston-super-Mare, UK. (photo © Butterfly)

Particularly effective to the experience are the grim and listless personnel who mind the grounds and offer no clear or meaningful help. Not quite menacing, they could just be impersonating sullen teens. Perhaps they are buckling under the weight of low wages and dim opportunities on the horizon or are simply humiliated by the balloons some are made to carry that say, “I’m an Imbecil”.

On a particularly gray and dreary day periodically warmed with the sun, the photographer named Butterfly made her pilgrimage to this nightmare fairy tale by the seaside for the big opening and below she shares with BSA readers her images and observations on the pop-up exhibition to help us all feel a bit of the dreadful experience first-hand.

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Banksy. Escif. Dismaland. Weston-super-Mare, UK. (photo © Butterfly)

~ By Butterfly

Weston-Super-Mare is a British seaside town, 30 minutes from Bristol, where families spend the day out donkey riding, visiting the Seaquarium or trying arcades at the Pier while kids build sandcastles on a muddy beach in miserable weather.

Rumors had been circulating for weeks about big installations being built in the former Tropicana, a derelict lido closed since 2000 which once hosted the biggest outdoor swimming pool in Europe. The rumblings and the build up to the announcement to the show was phenomenal, along with the conjecture: Is it a film set? Is it a show? Is it a fair? Is it art?

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Banksy. Cinderella sufferd a crash. Dismaland. Weston-super-Mare, UK. (photo © Butterfly)

Finally we know: This is Banksy’s biggest show to date: Dismaland. It is, according to promotional materials “is a festival of art, amusements and entry-level anarchism.”

Moving towards Contemporary Art, the show is billed as a ‘Bemusement Park’. The global scale, diversity of installations, artworks and participating artists is unprecedented with 50 contemporary artists from 17 countries aiming to exhibit contemporary art and raise discussion about consumerism, political and environmental issues and to spur people to take action.

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Banksy. Dismaland. Weston-super-Mare, UK. (photo © Butterfly)

1000 lucky local people were invited to experience Dismaland before its’ opening to the general public. Concurrently the online ticket sales failed miserably, with the website crashing all day and earning it the award of  ‘the most disappointing new website’.

We first enter the premises through a cardboard security control room built by Bill Barminksi where the security staff asks the most random questions. After the clearing security, doors open to a sinister derelict place with trash, paper on the floor and mud. It almost looks like a dump. The surrounding staff members are dressed in pink hi-vis (vests) and are looking bored, miserable and haggard.  Some are holding David Shrigley’s ‘I’m an Imbecile’ balloons. When asking questions, they respond by whispering messages that are beyond understanding. Customer service is below standard and not responsive at best.

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Banksy. Dismaland. Weston-super-Mare, UK. (photo © Butterfly)

Surrounded by murky water with a dumped riot van that has been transformed into an impromptu water fountain, a decrepit fairy-tale castle ‘shows how it feels to be a real princess’. A sinister scene of a Cinderella pumpkin crash sculpture is lit up by the swarm of paparazzi, with flashing cameras taking photo after photo of the tragic crash scene, echoing Princess Diana’s death. You may also pose with it and have your souvenir photo of the experience.

The amusements are purposely confusing – as they don’t let you win. An ESPO sign reads

‘WINNING IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED’. Arcade fans attempt miserably to score some of the bling necklaces by shooting spray cans, only to realize that they are screwed to the wall.

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Banksy. Dismaland. Weston-super-Mare, UK. (photo © Butterfly)

Some local families were confused with Banksy’s Mediterranean Boat Ride, where the public can drive robotic boats of migrants amongst floating bodies. Kids tried to play on Paul Insect‘s overcrowded sandpit while others were desperately looking for disappearing golf balls on the impossible Mini Gulf course. Families enjoyed rides on the merry-go-round without noticing a butcher sitting next to a hanging horse draining blood with cardboard boxes marked Lasagnes (a nod to a horse food scandal in 2013).

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Banksy. Dismaland. Weston-super-Mare, UK. (photo © Butterfly)

Alongside the rides, contemporary artworks are displayed throughout the site. There is also a large indoor space hosting 3 galleries with a selection of some of the best contemporary art. A circus tent features a freak show of strange animals from Polly Morgan and Dorcas Casey to a unicorn by Damien Hirst and a Banksy animatronic rabbit that makes the magician disappear.

The seaside and funfair themes have been given a certain twist as well: A statue of a woman being attacked by seagulls (Banksy), a giant ice cream cone (Ben Long), a wooden carved horse sculpture (Maskull Lasserre), a beach ball floating above razor sharp knives (Damien Hirst), a seaside painting showing a mother and child playing on the sand unaware of the tsunami of detritus coming toward them (Banksy).

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Banksy. Dismaland. Weston-super-Mare, UK. (photo © Butterfly)

Environmental issues and relationships between human and nature are also highlighted with artworks from Paco Pomet and Josh Keyes. A Banksy killer whale sculpture is jumping out of a toilet peace. Other topics addressed are on war, geopolitics, and the Arab Spring. Artists from Palestine and Israel are displayed side by side. Within the Guerilla Island, the dome presents of series of activist banners from all over the world, including drawings from Iranian cartoonist Mana Neyestani.

A bus turned into a touring Museum of Cruel Objects curated by Dr. Gavin Grindon educates the public on surveying the role of design for social control, including CCTV. And you can sign up to one of the union stalls for action. Finally there is the mind-blowing model village installation by James Cauty called The Aftermath Dislocation Principle.

The evening turned into a big party with live music while a massive show of fireworks sealed the official opening. I found the experience to be overwhelming with so much artwork to discover and actions to be taken.

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Banksy. Dismaland. Weston-super-Mare, UK. (photo © Butterfly)

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Banksy. Dismaland. Weston-super-Mare, UK. (photo © Butterfly)

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Banksy. Espo. Dismaland. Weston-super-Mare, UK. (photo © Butterfly)

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Banksy. Paul Insect . Bast. Dismaland. Weston-super-Mare, UK. (photo © Butterfly)

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Banksy. Dismaland Art Gallery. Weston-super-Mare, UK. (photo © Butterfly)

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Banksy. Paco Pomet. Dismaland Art Gallery. Weston-super-Mare, UK. (photo © Butterfly)

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Banksy. Maskull Lassarre. Dismaland Art Gallery. Weston-super-Mare, UK. (photo © Butterfly)

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Banksy. Kate MacDowell. Dismaland Art Gallery. Weston-super-Mare, UK. (photo © Butterfly)

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Banksy. Jessica Harrison. Dismaland Art Gallery. Weston-super-Mare, UK. (photo © Butterfly)

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Banksy. Dietrich Wegner. Dismaland Art Gallery. Weston-super-Mare, UK. (photo © Butterfly)

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Banksy. Damien Hirst. Dismaland Art Gallery. Weston-super-Mare, UK. (photo © Butterfly)

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Banksy. Andreas Hykade. Dismaland Art Gallery. Weston-super-Mare, UK. (photo © Butterfly)

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Banksy. Amir Schiby. Dismaland Art Gallery. Weston-super-Mare, UK. (photo © Butterfly)

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Banksy. Dorkas Casey. Dismaland Circus. Weston-super-Mare, UK. (photo © Butterfly)

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Banksy. Dismaland. Thank you for visiting folks. Weston-super-Mare, UK. (photo © Butterfly)

 

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