'Its going to be dismal and its going to be Banksy dismal, so get yourself ready...' was my mantra as I walked up Marine Parade. 'This is Weston Super Mare.. its perfect for dismal, it'll fit right in.' Here in my native Somerset, Weston is one of those faded seaside towns thats never quite got its mojo back, and I felt ready for Banksy's particular brand of dismal, but three hours later I left feeling like I failed/he won. It is a peculiar but brilliant blend of subversive theatre and art.
I'd been invited along on a staff day out by a creative client I do alot of work for and was pleased to accept, knowing I'd be in the perfect company. I love watching people doing anything and the idea of spending a few hours amongst the amassed 'bemusers' in the former Tropicana Pleasure Beach, made me feel confident.
The staff on the gate are rude, obnoxious and pissed off. I knew to expect that, typical Banksy, whats next? I stood trying to decide where to begin, then anxiously kept going around in circles not sure which way to head of in. I feel bombarded, where shall I begin? Literally like a child in a sweet shop its overwhelming at first - there are queues everywhere. I hate queuing, never do it unless you have to. But all I could see, was queues. I wander, eventually circling the entire site looking for a quick fix. Ten minutes later, back by the entrance, I admit to myself its a really shit place to hate queuing because they pack so many people in and in the end you have to accept you have no choice, so I join a queue. Bansky 1, Bill 0.
Watching people and their constant need to selfie and panic snap everything that surrounded us cheered me up a bit. I love their desperation. People are feeling the need to record everything, especially them being there, and I keep documenting that to keep myself distracted from the waiting. I believe its OK to document everyone else doing it, that my job. But I'm doing the same thing. Camera in hand, I realised I was starting to deal with my own desperation in capturing the spectacle of the British doing Banksy and I began to doubt myself. I'm just the same as them, stop kidding yourself. I felt slightly cheap and fraudulent. Maybe that's the point? What got under my skin the most, was the underwhelming, tinny muzak playing out gently over the rusty loudspeakers; subtle, slow and constant. It was breaking me down psychologically yet keeping me alive to torture me some more. Several hours later, I really did feel like giving up. Am I enjoying this? Am I supposed to? Maybe a beer would help?
Inside was a gallery that housed some of the best art that I've ever seen collected together. This room has its finger on the pulse, this is proper art. It offered me some temporary relief, propping me up for a while before heading back out into the fray.
What really got me in the end, was being told by security that I wasn't allowed to take photos in the gift shop (which to be fair - could be part of the act?) What the fuck? Banksy is telling me I can't take photos in the gift shop? Banksy? Fuck off. Before me was yet another queue, cash out, ready to spend on over-priced Dismal merchandise. Being chided for doing what I do peaked my bile and made me acutely aware of the hypocracy in my face - capitalism in action . Am I part of this system? Do I care? I'm not spending any money on this. It made me really uncomfortable on a whole new level. How can it be three quid to get in, then they charge you twenty quid for a t-shirt and forty quid for a sweat-top? Maybe thats what he wants me to think? Its time to leave. Not sure I'm smart enough for this place.
Dismaland is a fantastic feat: thoughtful and subversive and a very Banksy beast. Creative psychological warfare designed to make you question everything, including yourself. I left feeling like his sketchbook had prolapsed into a seaside arena of decay and confusion, his mind violently and publicly spewing up in front of the crowd and we were all slightly too embarrassed to watch, but couldn't turn away. In many ways it holds a mirror up to society and although the reflection you see staring back at you is your face, its also the face of an angry clown looking at you shamefully. Genius and madman, Banksy and his crew have created a place thats neither friendly or unkind, but very twisted, off-putting and hilarious. Its made me cynical, which I dislike, but thats probably the entire point, maybe I'm not cynical enough, enough of the time.