I thought the idea of Dismaland was genius when it first emerged.
I loved the idea of mocking so much of British culture, politicians and media, in the way we Brits are so renowned; highlighting the plight of migrants and artistically, satirically representing so much that is wrong with the UK, and probably western culture as a whole at the moment.
I like to laugh at myself, to have my hypocrisies and stereotypical British ways pointed out to me. I also love Banksy, and I love Disney. And I love theme parks – I’ve spent most of this year indulging that interest, the springtime heights of Alton Towers (pre-Smiler crash), to the summer lows of Cornwall’s Flambards, and all things Pleasurewood Hills, Blackpool Pleasure Beach and Chessingon World of Adventures in between. Growing up in Norfolk and frequenting Great Yarmouth every summer, I’ve a nostalgic love for the gaudy and the tacky, and a profound sadness for the demise of the British seaside town. That never again will I enter that horrendous House of Wax.
Banksy’s Dismaland pulled everything together in one, brilliant way. I, like thousands of others, HAD to get tickets. But then the supposed ticket-sale pranks, the desperation, the competing with others to pay for what promises to be a miserable experience: becoming the butt of the joke.
On the third release, and third attempt to get tickets, it stopped seeming so fun. I understand the concept of immersive art. I understand that visitors to the ‘park’ are part of the art work, part of the humour – without the desperate, paying, ticket-victorious visitors, it’s just a sad reflection of corporate greed and misery-hungry media; with them it’s an opportunity to reflect on ourselves, our ethos and our part in encouraging these situations to exist – but it’s so damn disempowering.
To make the masses; the already excluded and underrepresented in many circles, feel isolated from their own artist seems cruel.
Banksy was ours. He was the artist that laughed with us when he attacked the very cores of crumbling ideologies and oppressive policies. While posh galleries sold tickets, Banksy, illegally painted on public walls, visible to all. He stood with us, the people, to draw attention to the things we cared about.
Then he made us the joke.
He laughed at us, wanting to laugh at ourselves. He mocked and prodded our fat bellies as we begged to be given tickets to the slaughter house – where we could use our own values and aspirations to belittle those very same values and aspirations, and call them the problem.
Art should challenge, but I’m not entirely convinced that art should isolate and exclude in the way that Dismaland’s ticket sale fiasco has. I remember a few years ago simultaneously studying Banksy’s graffiti art alongside photographer Martin Parr’s intriguing commentary on tourism through his photojournalistic capturing the British seaside town experience, for my Photography A Level.
Had I heard then that Banksy would delve, himself, into the bleak representation of British values, I’d have probably leapt with joy. As an adult, I’m not so sure I’m ready to sell my soul in this way.
If I do find myself heading towards Weston-super-Mare this autumn, it will be, primarily to don my bikini in the fading light of British summer time, and hope that Martin Parr snaps me laying on some gravel eating a stick of rock. Least then I can have a piece of myself displayed on a non-descript service station wall for ALL to see.
And maybe I’ll try my luck at buying Dismaland tickets at the actual box office. Just in case.