A Day at Dismaland Bemusement Park
When O+A was in London for the Design Festival, some of us dared to venture out to Weston-super-Mare to enjoy a day in a muddy park with belligerent staff, long lines, and dark magic. Dismaland Bemusement Park was a chilling adventure into Banksy’s vision of the world.
The Unhappiest Place on Earth
“I have seen Banksy’s street art everywhere. However, I was really exposed to Banksy when I was living in New York where I saw a few small pop-up Banksy pieces: a pet store, animatronic bumper car, a sphinx made out of rubber. All these pieces were singular moments, small glimpses into his larger body of work.
Dismaland on the other hand was a complete immersive experience; Banksy’s voice was in full force during my entire trip to the Bemusement Park. I was excited on the train ride out to the English coast, annoyed as I walked through a muddy field only to wait in line, overwhelmed by the expansive scale of the attraction and moved by all the art galleries. It was poetic, it was political and it was anarchistic.”
Told to be Anti-Stewards
“The staff at Dismaland were not to be unnoticed. Highly visible in their ears and fluorescent pink vests, we each endured a ‘gloomy’ experience with one [or many] of these individuals.
You’re walking too fast. Back up – Mind the dirt. Stop smiling. No smiling! What? Do you think it’s too bright in here? Must you wear your sunglasses? End joy.
Some were consistently scowling while others would flip the bird for every camera pointed in their direction. The attendant at the beer tent pulled out a warm can, tipped it to the side and rolled it down the bar. Shaken, a pop of the top lead to a fizzy explosion all in keeping with the character in the experience.
Details such as these carried the mood throughout the exhibition.”
If You Do One Thing Today, It Might Not Be Enough
“In the art gallery tent there was a beautiful piece by Lithuatian artist Severija Incirauskaite-Kriauneviciene. It was a cross-stitch embroidered car hood. The artist took the car because it had been involved in a wreck. She juxtaposes beautiful, massively labor intensive, and intentionally kitsch flowers onto abandoned metallic objects, in this case a car hood.
I was standing there staring at it open-mouthed, thinking about the time and skill involved, and the docent came to tell me about the artist. I was so surprised to not be snarked at and asked her why she was allowed to be nice. She responded “Banksy thought it was really important for people to be able to learn about the artists and their work, so the gallery is the only place the employees are allowed to be polite.” I thought it was such a powerfully important detail from Banksy, and I was moved to be surrounded by respect for art in such a dismal world.”
Exit Through the Gift Shop
“Stand on the mark!” Our attendant arranges us before a blank green wall.
“Point at the sign on the wall to my left!” She gestures, scowling beneath plastic mouse ears.
“Smile! Look like you’re enjoying this.” Her camera clicks and we are blinded by her flash.
“Alright. Move on. Stop smiling!”
“We’ve only just entered the princess’ castle, not the fantasy storybook building of your dreams, but a run-down, weathered, decrepit relative. Rounding the green, algae-infested moat and passing through the heavy front doors, we encounter our dismal guide. Decked in fluorescent pink vests and cobbled-together disposable mouse ears, our unhappy greeters escort us through this rushed and confusing photo session and on to our next destination.
Upon turning the corner heavy darkness greets us. Birds sing joyfully as though it’s the sunniest spring day, though we are all shrouded in blackness. The sound of distant Parisian sirens grows louder as they approach. We are blinded by camera flashes, incessant blinks, the explosions of multiple devices, and our only sources of light. Through the fog we finally settle on the cameras’ focus; we finally meet her. We greet Princess Cinderella, deceased and draped through the window of her upturned pumpkin carriage, while her bird attendants continue to tie her dress’s tattered bow. Broken wheels high in the air, bits of debris and spokes sprinkled around our feet, and Cinderella’s white horses writhing in agony appear to us only in the spurts gifted to us by the flicker of our fellow viewers’ cameras. Upon inspection, our lifelike camera-yielding neighbors are not Dismaland guests like us, but paparazzi installed as part of the sculpture. We have joined them at this crash site to gawk at the spectacle, to consume the image of a fallen luminary, to take part in the appeal of scandal at any cost.
In true Banksy fashion we exit through the gift shop. We are given the opportunity to buy our castle entry photo. Our dismal attendants present us with our prize: we have been digitally inserted into a photo of the Cinderella crash scene, laughing, pointing, and proudly planted behind our paparazzi neighbors. We are locked into the princess’ history as gawkers, consumers, and a piece of the performance. We are, and were, a critical part of the problem– members of the tragedy.”