We really just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Two weeks ago Tom and I had planned to visit a friend in Bristol for a surf trip in Devon. On Thursday, the news broke that Banksy had opened a ‘Bemusement Park’ exhibition in Weston-Super-Mare, just 30 minutes away from Bristol. With my looming departure to Canada, we probably wouldn’t have gone out of our way to go to this little seaside town that passed its prime many years ago, so it was pretty lucky we were in the area!
After what ended up being the best surf conditions either Tom or I had seen in England (which, to be fair, we don’t have many experiences to choose from), we decided to drive through Weston-Super-Mare on the way back to Bristol. We had heard the website crashed and people were queuing for hours, so we just thought ‘Okay, we’ll stop by and if it’s a circus, we won’t stick around’.
As luck would have it, it had been pissing down with rain all afternoon (never thought ‘luck’ and ‘pissing rain’ would go in the same sentence, huh?), so we only waited for about 20 minutes. No lines and only a piddle of rain.
“Don’t look at me, look at the floor,” one of the rude “security guards” said to Tom as we were corralled into the security space. Fake metal detectors and gloves were everywhere, and all of the Dismaland staff were grumpy. The grey skies and rain fit the Dismaland vibe perfectly.
We went over to the crumbling Dismaland castle to see Cinderella’s horse-drawn carriage had crashed and she was hanging out, dead, while paparazzi photographed the wreckage. It was surely a nod to the late Princess Diana but mostly our voyeuristic culture, obsessed with documenting everything, no matter how inappropriate (she writes, in a blog, on the internet). Someone in the group remarked “It’s ironic we’re taking pictures of paparazzi taking pictures.” Is ironic the right word?
When we came out of the castle, the rain and had stopped and the sun was shining. The three of us decided to squeeze onto the ferris wheel ride, which actually had great views over the Weston-Super-Mare pier, the town, and even Cardiff across the sea. The Dismaland staff operating the ferris wheel told some other guests “No sweets in line!” and gave us a dry, “Have. Fun.” as we boarded the ride.
A lot of the work was anti-establishment, politically charged critiques of popular culture and consumerism. As usual, the individual pieces Banksy featured were meant to make us question the world we live in. Meanwhile, the entire experience of Dismaland makes you think about our concept of modern amusement.
It’s obvious for the conscious person to question the government and institutions, but something ostensibly innocent like a theme park or the cinema are also sites to be deconstructed and unpacked. You may not think about it, but a lot of these companies selling fun also fund or invest in the arms trade and military companies, or indirectly impact a lot of the bad things going on in the world.
The rude staff, dilapidated park, and rickety rides made me think about how contrived a lot of our experiences are. When we pay for an experience, we have a preconceived notion of what we should get from it. No authenticity, no truth or honesty – we believe we should get what we paid for rather than what is.
The way I put it into perspective for myself was with the idea of people who go to the Caribbean and stay in all-inclusive resorts. They think ‘Wow, St. Lucia is beautiful, everyone is so nice and happy and friendly, why would anyone want to leave here?’, completely disregarding the privilege they have, disregarding that in a place like St. Lucia they are the 1%, disregarding the fact that many people live in poverty in that country and they have usually been paid to be nice, happy, and friendly.
Is Dismaland Worth Visiting?
I think if you’re just going ‘because it’s Banksy’, then you probably shouldn’t go out of your way. Yes, it’s a great photo opp and something to tell people you’ve done but the exhibition features more than 50 other artists, all with something important to say about today’s society. We saw a lot of people just furiously snapping pictures and not actually looking at anything.
If you’re interested in that kind of art, then absolutely, get a ticket to Weston-Super-Mare and spend the day here. Dismaland is an amazing collection of art in a variety media.
And yes, you can spend the day at Dismaland. There is food (really tasty pizza, £6-9), beer (two bars), a coffee shop (£1.50-3), and toilets. I didn’t realize how many different installations there were – you would need at least 3 hours to really take it all in.
I thought it was brilliant and I can see why people were flying internationally to visit Dismaland. It’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities and I’m truly lucky to have had the chance to see it. I was thoroughly bemused.
Entry costs £3. Programmes are £5 and give an explanation of all the pieces. Rides, ‘I am an imbecile’ balloons, and other bits and bobs cost £1.