We visited Banksy’s Dismaland in September 2015. We left London with the first outgoing Saturday train one weekend and spent the morning and most of the afternoon in Bath, then took the train from there to Weston-super-Mare. Dismaland is located next to the Seaquarium in the former Tropicana Park. Apparently Banksy got the idea of using the area for an exhibition when he peeked into the abandoned and derelict park through a broken fence in January 2015 and started preparations for the exhibition shortly thereafter.
We thought the exhibition was great. Very political, not necessarily in line with our political views, but angry art is always good art, and angry this art was.
The queues were very long and once we finally got to the front, we realised that the admission procedure was already part of the show. The doormen and women were incredibly rude and aggressive, pushing people and shouting at people, ridiculing them, and generally trying to make everyone feel as uncomfortable as possible. We had a half empty plastic bottle with us, which was ripped out of our hands and thrown at the wall on the far end of the room while we were being lectured about the security procedures. Good fun! We liked the concept.
Once you enter the area, which is about as big as a football field, there are more security guys everywhere, continuing to harass you and everyone else throughout your stay. Some of them, though, are not aggressive, they’re depressed (or, well, the actors are pretending to be depressed security guys), weltschmerz all over the place, very amusing.
We grabbed some food and two drinks at the only food stall. The reviews we had read were all agreeing that the food was an abhorrent outrage, but we still couldn’t help being shocked how bad it really was, not sure if this was all part of the concept, but it must have been.
A lot of the artwork is gigantic in size and can be seen from anywhere around the area. There is a little pond called “Water Canon Creek” in the centre with an armoured police van half sunk into it that has a children’s slide attached. On the other side of the lake (from where you enter the exhibition) there is a Dismaland Castle. The brochure dryly says “Artist group Block9 made the fairy-tale castle. In the past few years their iconic set builds and installations have propelled them from a Travellers site in Deptford all the way to a Travellers site in Stratford.”
The brochure continues: “Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it,” Berthold Brecht once said. Which is fine, but what if you’re in a hall of mirrors and the giant hammer is made of foam? This, according to the brochure, is the question raised by Dismaland Bemusement Park.”
Right next to the food stall there is a Loan Shop targeted at the under 12’s by Darren Cullen with posters and brochures screaming at the visitors “Get an advance on your pocket money!” “Toothfairy financing!” “Free toys inside!” “Schoolyard bullies bored during the summer break? We need debt collectors who know how to deal wedgies.”
Then there are several trailers with tents in which there are indoor exhibition rooms with a variety of quirky exhibits, mainly posters and paintings and a few sculptures.
One of the major pieces is a Banksy sculpture where a killer whale jumps out of a toilet (real-size). Then you get to the main exhibition hall which stretches along the whole length of one side of the park area.
It is here that you find the most important pieces, including a Damien Hirst moving sculpture called “The Frailty of Love”, that involves several balloons being held above a ground with sharp, upward pointing shards by air streams blowing upwards from different angles.
A miniature boat pond piece by Banksy with deceased refugees floating in the water face down between the coast guard and refugee boats criticises the West’s reaction to the refugee crisis.
There is a twisted green bench and a burnt out ice cream van.
Our favourite was an oil painting of Somali pirates riding a Landcruiser with a freaked out muppet from the muppet show right in the middle, by Paco Pomet.
“The Aftermath Displacement Principle” by Jimmy Cauty – a model of an entire town frozen just after a huge period of civil unrest – was also very impressive and must have taken the artist a long time to build.
Our last treat was a visit to the castle which ended with a photo opportunity next to a wreckage of a Cinderella carriage with carnage and paparazzi.
We had to rush back to the train station not to miss our train, we were hungry and tired, and it rained heavily all the way back to the station, but we were happy that we had managed to make it to this great exhibition.