Earlier this week Lucie B had a day off, so went to enjoy herself at the UK’s latest theme park, Dismaland…
“NO SMILING, PLEASE,” barked an officious ‘security guard’ as we entered the first door. Reminiscent of airport security, complete with walk-through body scanners, something wasn’t quite right. Everything was made of cardboard, crudely painted and decorated to childishly ape one of the most stressful experiences of modern travel.
This was my first taste of Dismaland, the latest brainchild of cult street artist Banksy. I’d never been so happy to receive such dismal service. As we moved through ‘security’ and into the park, my friend asked a member of staff for one of the leaflets she was holding. “UGH,” came the reply, with leaflet thrust grumpily forwards. We collapsed into laughter.
We’d already queued 45 minutes to get to this point. I’ve since learned that many of the people in the queue are actually actors, there to reproduce the feeling of constant queues associated with theme parks and fairgrounds. On entering the park, we found more queues, impossible games (‘topple the anvil’ with squashed ping pong balls, completely unhookable ducks), terrible rides and the centrepiece – a broken down, disintegrating version of Disney’s Magic Castle, made out of plywood and childhood nightmares. Inside, one of the most arresting appropriations of Disney imagery I could have imagined.
Essentially a dystopian concept art exhibition featuring work from around 60 contemporary artists (including Banksy himself), Dismaland is a remarkably effective vehicle for Banksy’s core anti-consumerist, anti-capitalist themes. Whether you knew it or not art was everywhere you looked, from the more ‘traditional’ medium of drawings and paintings, through to the spinning ‘Astronaut Caravan’ ride and the ‘I AM AN IMBECILE’ souvenir balloons (unmistakeably David Shrigley, one of my favourite cartoon artists).
Of course, now he’s a household name, anything Banksy does will come in for a certain amount of criticism – but reviews of Dismaland have been broadly very positive, and rightly so. Art is mass communication. How many other contemporary artists can you name who hijack popular culture as effectively? What other artists hold enough mainstream appeal to attract enough paying visitors for a 5-week run?
Go and see it for yourself. Just remember not to smile in your selfies.