by Mike Vinti
Banksy’s anti-theme park is a strange thing to behold. After all the media hype and ensuing comment pieces, it’s hard to know what to expect when entering through its cheap, plastic doors. The queues outside set the tone rather nicely, reminiscent of Dismaland’s mainstream counterparts and laying the foundations of what promises to be a dismal experience.
Once at the front, visitors get their first taste of Dismaland’s stewards. Adorned in Mickey Mouse ears and pink hi-vis vests they are the antithesis of your average, over-friendly theme park worker, barely making eye contact and offering nothing but disdain to those who pass them by.
Critics have noted the irony of having visitor’s bags checked by private security, and their presence is certainly felt around the park. However, Dismaland’s juxtaposition of real security and Bill Barminski’s fake screening room suggests that this irony is not entirely lost on Banksy and co. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that the visible security presence at Dismaland is a deliberate subversion of Disneyland’s ‘secret police’ of which Banksy has fallen foul before.
Dismaland is small but concentrated, with each attraction precisely crafted to elicit at least a smirk.
Once through both real and fake security I’m offered, and then denied, a leaflet by one of the stewards and into the park itself. More queues await, but unlike your run of the mill theme park visitors here aren’t queuing for rides, but for art. The general tone is much the same as any other fair-ground or theme park and while the crowd is certainly artier, they are a varied group, ranging from old ladies to bearded Europeans dressed all in black.
Dismaland is small but concentrated, with each attraction precisely crafted to elicit at least a smirk. There’s a Somali Pirate photo opportunity, a ‘selfie hole’ which is impossible to take selfies through and the whole park is littered with posters bearing Shrigley-esque witticisms and slogans.
While much of Dismaland pokes fun at the obvious injustices of our time, it also offers information and resources to visitors who might find themselves moved to do something about them.
There is of course more dismal side of things, such as Banksy’s remote control refugee boats and the Museum of Cruel Objects, which houses tools used for social control in Britain, hosting the largest queue throughout the day and set to tour the country once the park closes for good later this month. Much has been said of the Cinderella/Diana pumpkin crash in the dilapidated castle and the three room gallery which houses most of Dismaland’s ‘proper art’, yet less touched on in the press is the presence of activist art and workshops.
‘Strike!’, the anarchist magazine responsible for a series of anti-met police posters which went viral last year, have their own stall, there’s a library stocked with anarchist and radical literature and a tent dedicated to protest art, including placards, trade union banners and posters. While much of Dismaland pokes fun at the obvious injustices of our time, it also offers information and resources to visitors who might find themselves moved to do something about them.
The real stars of Dismaland are the stewards. There is genius simplicity in getting your staff to be deliberately unhelpful and rude and the highlight of my visit comes from watching the ‘Hook the Duck from the Muck’ stand in which two stewards put considerable effort into ensuring no one is able to win, throwing ducks at visitors, encouraging people not to play and at one point splashing ‘muck’ at a small child who dared question the game’s fairness. Equally mocking is David Shrigley’s ‘Topple the Anvil’ game in which visitors are invited to throw ping-pong balls at an anvil to see if they can knock it over. The prize is the anvil itself; a wonderful metaphor for the empty escapism that rules so much of modern culture.
In 2015 Banksy is bordering populist, his work is more likely to be seen on a knock-off Camden market T-shirt than a wall, and while many have been drawn to Dismaland by the weight of his name, it’s refreshing to see the majority of visitors engaging with and understanding the themes presented by the park.
Banksy has essentially carved a “fuck you” into the landscape of Britain.
In the age of online petitions and Daily Mail comments, politics can feel anonymous and sterile. While it has its faults, Dismaland proves that culture and politics can combine to make political discourse more vibrant and engaging than many members of parliament would have us believe.
There is no overarching moral take away from Dismaland but a general mood of laughing in the face of the establishment, using culture and community to challenge the elite. Critics have highlighted the lack of street art present in the park, but by converting this abandoned slice of an ageing, middle-class sea-side town into a fair-ground for the disenchanted Banksy has essentially carved a “fuck you” into the landscape of Britain. Like much street art however, although admittedly not Banksy’s these days, it will soon be gone – here’s hoping the space it’s carved for culture and politics to meet remains.