Disneyland too busy this weekend? Try Dismaland.
Dismaland Bemusement Park, as it is officially called, is a sly take on an immersive art exhibition from the controversial street artist Banksy. Located in a working-class seaside resort town in England, it is scheduled to open its doors to the public from tomorrow (Aug. 22). Star Wars amusement park, this is not.
Instead of simply displaying the 58 works by his fellow contemporaryartists such as Damien Hirst, Jenny Hotlzer, and David Shrigley—themselves providing ample provocation—Dismaland strives for simulacra in the name of satire. Using familiar tropes associated with theme parks, Banksy’s dystopian wonderland has rides, a merry-go-round, a killer whale jumping through a hoop á la Sea World, and even concerts. Performances by Massive Attack and Pussy Riot are on the schedule.
A seaside “fun fair” in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, England.(Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett)
A reversal of Disneyland’s infamously cheerful and solicitous staff (a.k.a. “cast members”), Dismaland’s attendants, it seems, have been instructed to exude boredom, disinterest, if not outright despair.
Zombie-like dead eyes are de rigueur.
Working the fair grounds like a sidewalk portrait artist, British artistNettie Wakefield creates rather astutely-rendered pencil drawings of the back of her sitters’ heads.
Park rules are simple: “No spray paint, marker pens, knives and/or legal representatives of the Walt Disney Corporation are allowed,” as stated on Dismaland’s website. There is also a security checkpoint propped with fake body scanners and apathetic guards armed with those ubiquitous metal detector security wands, all crudely constructed in cardboard.
“Theme parks should have bigger themes,” Banksy said. Despite his efforts to deflect the spotlight back to the group art showcase, Dismaland can easily be construed as the artist’s ultimate critique on the perceived mind-numbing and overly-commercialized theme park experience doled out by Disney. Parody, lampoon, caricature, and satire abound in Dismaland. Banksy’s ambitious five-week fiasco, if anything, vivifies the various modes of criticism and social commentary achieved through art.
Bludgeoned by pigeons.(Reuters/Toby Melville)“Big Rig Jig” by artist Mike Ross has also previously made an appearance at the Burning Man Festival.(Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett)
The exhibition, Banksy’s largest to date, is a culmination of the elusive artist’s obsession with the Walt Disney Corporation. From Snow White recast as a masked anarchist holding a grenade like the poison apple to a woeful Dumbo the elephant maimed by a rocket launcher (video), Disney characters have been favorite targets and messengers for Banksy’s politically-charged parodies over the years.
True to Banksy’s modus operandi, Dismaland was constructed amidst a cloak of secrecy with help from local town officials. “We have been working closely with the organizers for months now,” said Nigel Ashton of the North Somerset Council to the BBC. “For obvious reasons, [we] have had to remain tight-lipped about the true nature of the event.”
As a reward, local residents will get the first opportunity to experience the park with an exclusive preview scheduled for today (Aug. 21). Dismaland Bemusement Park is open until Sept. 27.
Banksy: ‘I think a museum is a bad place to look at art’
In a rare interview the notorious artist tells us about his new theme park project, Dismaland, and shares his thoughts on the contemporary art world
What is this thing?
In essence it’s a festival of art, amusements and entry-level anarchism. A place where you can get your counterculture easily available over the counter. A theme park for the disenfranchised, with franchises available. I guess you’d say its a theme park whose big theme is – theme parks should have bigger themes.
Where is this thing?
It’s situated in a former lido that stretches across two-and-a-half acres of heavily fortified beachfront compound, comprising a pool, sun terrace and small amphitheatre. I asked myself: what do people like most about going to look at art? The coffee. So I made an art show that has a cafe, a cocktail bar, a restaurant and another bar. And some art.
Why is this thing?
If you’re the kind of person who feels jaded by the over-corporate blandness that passes for family light entertainment, then this is the bespoke leisure opportunity that will connect with your core brand dynamic. It doesn’t so much ask the question, “What is the point in art now?” as ask, “What is the point in asking, ‘What is the point in art now?’”
You’ve described low-income families as “the perfect art audience”. Why?
“Low-income holidaymakers” are the perfect art audience. There’s something very evocative about the British seaside experience. This show is modelled on the failed winter wonderlands they build every December that get shut down by trading standards – where they charge £20 to look at some alsatians with antlers taped to their heads towing a sleigh made from a skip. Essentially this is a theme park that Lawrence Llewelyn Bowen would endorse. The advantage of putting art in a small seaside town is you’re only competing with donkeys.I think a museum is a bad place to look at art; the worst context for art is other art.
What do you care about showcasing other artists?
Curating can be surprisingly creative: you get to learn from people, draw parallels and create meanings, all without having to pick up a pencil or get out of bed.
Have you turned your back on street art?
For this show, yes.
How do you feel when your work is resold or removed?
I don’t think much about it, but for the art form as a whole it’s unhealthy. When you paint illegally you have so much to contend with – cameras, cops, Neighbourhood Watch, drunk people throwing bottles at your head – so adding “predatory art speculators” to the mix just makes things even harder. Graffiti is an important and valid art form, it would be a shame if it was killed by venture capitalism.
Do you think that the art market poisons creativity?
The art market certainly doesn’t encourage creativity. Like most markets it rewards being able to reliably deliver recognisable product on a regular basis. Which isn’t necessarily a recipe for exciting art. I heard someone on the radio, it might even have been Richard Ashcroft, say: “It’s not art unless it has the potential to be a disaster.” Which is why I’ve spent months making distorted fibreglass fairground sculptures to install in a dirty lido miles from anywhere.
Did you vote Tory at the last election?