BLOG Sophie Baggott

NWR Issue 109

Dismaland: A Kaleidoscope of Visionary Exasperation

Sunset was scheduled for 7.15pm on our weekend visit to Dismaland. Brilliant, our 7pm ticket would whisk us into Banksy’s bemusement park just in time for a dramatic backdrop! Wishful thinking. The sluggish queue for entry meant forty-five minutes of zigzagging before a single step inside. In the meantime we could only gaze at this derelict seafront lido, lit by the now-iconic sign and one bright window displaying a silhouetted vase of flowers. Flowers! A bit off-key for dismalness, I sullenly noted.

At long last, we crossed the threshold. More endurance tests: cardboard security scanners and tetchy staff, who threw leaflets to the tune of endless moaning. Gloom was poured on us in bucketloads. But even Banksy’s best efforts to dishearten couldn’t repress a certain tacky awe at the technicolour sights, smoke, and intoxicating drumbeat that fuelled the atmosphere. Initially we wandered, disorientated, from hut to hut. Some were crammed with anti-establishment literature, another with classic novels subverted by hostile commentary. The anti- anti- anti- slogans were overwhelming; negativity resounded.

Many of the fairground rides cost extra, which slightly undercut Dismaland’s censure of capitalism. Atop the ferris wheel we looked down onto huge graffitied letters ‘UN-FUCK THE SYSTEM’ captioning an image of a fat, suited man feasting at a tilted table. A mother and children stood empty-handed at the far end. Long queues for exhibits were another naggingly common occurrence – was this a reflection of how we tend to waste our lives in limbo, or simply capitalistic overcrowding? ‘Planning for the future is escapism’, boomed the loudspeaker as we waited our turn to venture into the eerie castle. Clueless as to what was coming, we were hustled into a pitch-black room. Camera-flashes from paparazzi statues surrounded an overturned Cinderella carriage. A princess hung dead from the window; the allusion to Diana was unmissable. As Dismaland tourists pointed their iPhones to capture the scene, the irony seared.

Wall art and posters were speckled all over the park – there were provocative words or images to digest at every glance. Even the remotest corners were sprawled with advice such as ‘KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR LONGINGS’. Yet Dismaland’s tour de force was surely its indoor arena crammed with supremely witty artworks casting doubt after doubt on societal myths. Disneyland’s magic was shredded within seconds. In the centre stood Dietrich Wegner’s stunning sculpture of what first might seem to be a stepladder to heaven but clearly resembled the mushroom cloud of an atomic bombing. Dismaland tackled controversial subjects head-on: portrayals of the refugee crisis cropped up more than once. Floating on a large outdoors tank were boats full of impassive figurines. The muted, inconspicuous nature of this exhibit made it all the more horrifying on closer inspection.

Dismaland was a kaleidoscope of visionary exasperation. To catalogue each of its challenging quirks would take an eternity, but if visitors left after having explored even just one square metre it would have been time well spent. In yet further confusingly capitalist fashion, we were directed to depart through the gift shop. Our final few minutes saw us bump into one customer stripping to try on a T-shirt (much to a shrieking staff member’s horror), and another customer clattering into barriers while storming out of the entrance. What more of a fittingly surreal end could we have hoped for?

Sophie Baggot is a student at MA level on the Journalism course at Cardiff University.

Dismaland closed yesterday and will take three weeks to dismantle. It has been widely reported that the shelters and timber used there will be sent to France for use by Calais' refugees, although how tasteful a move sending 'Dismaland' to people effectively already living there is to be questioned: Ed.


previous blog: The Good Earth, Chapter Arts Centre
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