I thought I’d share with you my musings on a visit to the best ‘art experience’ I’ve ever encountered. Where else can you see Death whirling around on a dodgem to the tune of ‘Staying Alive’, witness a woman engulfed in a seagull attack and brandish a balloon emblazoned ‘I am an imbecile’ all in the name of art?
I am talking, of course, about Banksy’s recent pop-up exhibition at the abandoned Lido of Western Super-Mare. Watch the official promotional video here – I highly recommend it! To start with, the overall concept of Dismaland – including the names – is just excellent, blending my favourite brand of dark humour with clever puns to create an ironic take on iconic Disney, the ‘theme park experience’ and modern life itself. With somewhat of an ingrained distaste of the mainstream, sugar-coated Disneyland experience myself,the experience certainly lived up to its label of ‘bemusement park’. Ushered in by sulking staff in pink hi-viz with ‘mickey mouse’ ears, visitors were let loose inside what was most definitely not a fun or appropriate place to take your children. Dominated by a dilapidated castle and dotted with strange structures – most notably a scaffolding horse and and a twisted-up truck sculpture – here, finally, is an art installation you CAN touch. Photographs are allowed, hushed voices are unnecessary and visitors are encouraged to interact with the art. Here is a collective art piece in which the visitors, via their interactions and reactions, ‘add to’ the integrity of the work and somehow become a little piece of collective art itself as they experience it.
Oh, and there’s a bar.
Banksy’s concept of this absurd project, involving the curation of fifty-some other artists’ works, was – in my mind – extremely successful. The darker side of the ‘enforced fun’ of the theme park, in which experience rarely meets expectation and corporations find colourful, cartoon-themed ways to steal your money was expressed in depth here. The grime of the ‘amusement industry’ was not limited to the spray-painted stains dripping down the front of the old Weston-Super-Mare lido: here, fairground sideshows showed their true colours in the absurdity of games. The blatantly futile Topple the anvil with a ping-pong ball? Shoot at weighted down paint cans? Here is interactive art at its’ best.Hook a duck from the muck? This final one did prove unexpectedly successful, despite the sulky staff’s attempt to knock the duck off-balance whenever I got close. The prize: instead of a goldfish in a bag, I was presented with a fishfinger suspended in a plastic bag. Art I shall treasure forever.
Elsewhere, many more dismal experiences were to be had. Cinderella’s pumpkin coach lay crashed and stricken on its side, inspired by the tragic demise of Princess Diana. ‘When you’ve finished taking pictures of people taking pictures’, droned the uninterested staff, ‘bugger off’. A ‘Pocket Money Loans’ shop invited children delve into financial debt even earlier and offered a ‘Wounded in Action Man’ available to buy, while a ‘Miniature Gulf’ hosted putting greens strewn with oil cans and a crashed helicopter. An exquisitely detailed model village showed scenes of rioting, car crashes and a burning church while the boating lake hosted illegal immigrants on board its vessels.
Before perusing the brochure, I made the mistake of believing most of the work in the show to be Banksy’s: however, it turns out that the other artists invited extended beyond the main gallery. Strange, structurally deformed picnic benches by Michael Beitz looped-the-loop but you could just about rest your beer on one. Jenny Holzer projected her thought-provoking commentaries on electronic roadworks signs. In particular, the sarcastic and darkly humorously worded posters by Wasted Rita dotted around the arena particularly caught my eye. I think my new studio space may have to be adorned with some of her wonderfully true yet tragic musings.
Of course, a blog post of mine simply couldn’t be complete without embroidery, so it was with great pleasure I saw the embroidered car doors by Lithuanian artist Severija Incirauskaite-Kriauneviciene were on show in the main gallery. She drills holes in unusual surfaces to create a grid in which to cross-stitch: here, transforming the entire bonnet of a car into a gnarly metal canvas with which to work her obscure adornment into. Even the underside of a domestic iron had its’ grid-like surfaces of holes repurposed in the name of embroidery.
Ideally, I could have spent much longer than an afternoon there, absorbing the bemusing atmosphere and contemplating the vast depth of work on display by a myriad of talented artists. It was definitely an immersive experience in which participation played a key role and interaction inspired a greater ‘feel’ of what was going on there. Galleries online, or indeed articles such as this one, cannot compensate for first-person presence – even down to stupid things like spinning round on the derelict roundabout, reeling at the rickety sway of the flimsy Ferris wheel or paddling in the swirling shores of a riot-cannon water-feature. However, now it’s back to real life and back to the next embroidered challenge… Still, my current project underway involves copious amounts of gin, so perhaps ‘real life’ isn’t as grim a concept as it could be!