The ticketing fiasco, widely reported in the press, may or may not have been deliberately constructed to kick off the depressing nature of Banksy’s Dismaland, billed as ‘the UK’s most disappointing visitor attraction’. But the hours of queuing to get into the Weston-super-Mare site are certainly real. As are the unfriendly and unwelcoming greeting staff, not usually associated with amusement parks – except this is the world’s first bemusement park.
As the queue begins to move slowly, it seems clear that this is Banksy’s tactic to set the ‘dismal’ scene of the theme park but, as we finally reach the front, I realise it’s only the beginning. The gothic entrance to Dismaland is unsettling in itself, but the fake security soon brings a smile to my face. This was created by Bill Barminski and cleverly highlights the extreme and serious nature of modern-day security. Yet no one could have prepared me for the hard-hitting realities of today’s society that I am about to come face to face with.
Once through this strict security regime, the mayhem reveals itself. Immediately I am drawn to a horror story version of a princess’s castle, complete with tragic heroine: paparazzi surround a princess who has died and fallen out of her carriage – not quite the image of Cinderella we want our children to see, and a clear nod to the death of Diana. Banksy therefore leads us into this seemingly dreamlike setting but taints it with the stark reality of the celebrity-obsessed world we live in.
Out of the darkness, we are then confronted with emotionless figures carrying cardboard placards with suitably poignant messages. This is where the artists move their focus to the world of consumerism, and then on to the wider target of the establishment in general. There are tents full of anti-institution artwork, cleverly put together but also beautiful in their own individual ways. The ‘payday loans for children’ also illustrate an incredibly harsh reality of our consumer lifestyles.
So, whether you agree with Banksy’s and the other artists’ political views or not, it would be difficult to deny that this is an extremely clever art exhibition. Don’t be fooled into thinking there’s a legitimate theme park in store: the only rides are a typical seaside Ferris wheel and a merry-go-round (with some of its horses already turned into supermarket lasagne). But, what truly thrills is the experience of seeing darkly controversial opinions expressed so cleverly and so strikingly in a masterpiece of contemporary urban design – and for that alone Dismaland is well worth a visit.