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Banksy’s Dismaland – Hype can be a terrible thing

September 14, 2015

ArtsGroup Exhibition | by Harry Seymour

Hype can be a terrible thing. In most cases, it comes about when an event is so anticipated by the public, that visitors work up unrealistic expectations. As far as anticipation and high expectations go, Dismaland is up there. With Banksy and Damien Hirst attaching their names to the “most disappointing new visitor attraction”, it is no surprise that as tickets go on sale weekly, they also sell out in under an hour. The result? Thousands of people left with no release other than to take to twitter and lament. Did someone just say “hype” again? I thought so.

Being one of the lucky few to refresh page at the right time, I arrived in Weston-Super-Mare with a fair share of reservations and a dose of cynicism that I am sure Banksy would approve of; and yet, I seemed to have forgotten that I was walking into the brain child of the most famous and at once elusive street artist in the world.

Safe to say the hype is justified. On arrival, visitors are asked to queue. How else to begin a dismal experience but by standing in a meandering queue of people, all as clueless as each other? Rest assured however, Banksy is a punctual organiser because on the dot the doors open.

People are ushered in under the simultaneously dreary and magnificent Dismaland sign, only to be greeted by staff that are either rude, passive, or (seemingly) straight up brainless. The performances of these staff must be noted amongst the big successes of the attraction. All seem to have a role, albeit that of being useless. As they walk around, visitors can see Dismaland employees playing in sandboxes, petulantly manning the “mini gulf” section, and selling “I am an imbecile” balloons to visitors who arguably did not quite understand the conceptual foundation of this attraction, as all the extra activities you want to do will cost you between £1 to £3.

Highlights are many, and the poignancy of the exhibits is undeniable. The secret to the success with which such an array of exhibits work together is a very ingenious mix of serious messages with more humorous ones. The guerrilla art tent is a prime example; whilst demonstration posters tackle the situation in Syria and the housing issue in the UK, other posters take on a more reassuring tone, telling visitors “A lot of things are actually going pretty well”. Be it ironic, touches such as this make for lightening of a mood that would otherwise make the visit too heavy to process considering the scale of the park.

Already one of the most recognisable pieces at Dismaland is Banksy’s killer whale. Suspended mid jump between a toilet and a child size paddling pool, it builds on the Blackfish documentary, which marks the increased concern of the public with the treatment of killer whales in places such as Sea World.

Another noteworthy and already recognisable installation is that depicting Cinderella post “happily ever after”, in the aftermath of a carriage crash. Parallels to princess Diana have already been made, making this section of the park notably dark. Again, no disappointment here as the atmosphere is appropriately dark, yet hypnotising.

A mermaid and castle by Banksy at Dismaland. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA
A mermaid and castle by Banksy at Dismaland. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA

Amongst a number of areas that cover the usual installments you would find in a theme park (albeit subverted), “The Galleries” offers a more traditional gallery space, and feature oil paintings, photography, and sculptures, amongst other installations. Do not worry however, because within this more traditional white cube space you will also find Death riding a bumper car to the 1977 hit “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees.

Various articles are now trying to figure out what exactly Banksy is trying to say. However, I do not believe Dismaland is here for us to figure that out. Everything is tackled within the grounds, and visitors have absolute freedom; and whilst some may look at the very serious and current issues that are pointed out by the exhibiting artists, there is nothing holding you back from playing mini golf and enjoying the merry-go-round for what it is. Even though that would be a terrible waste.

By Alexandra Constantine

Dismaland, Weston-Super-Mare, until 21st September