If you were online in 2015, you probably heard about Dismaland: a massive project spearheaded by Banksy, the world-famous street artist.
The play on words for the park’s name signaled to visitors that they would experience none of the magic of Mickey Mouse.
Dismaland’s critics said the park was unimaginative, depressing, and overly conceptual. But those who praised it claimed that was the whole point of the “bemusement park.”
So what was Dismaland really like?
Let’s take a look!
Dismaland opened in Weston-super-Mare in Somerset, England. This massive art installation was the brainchild of famous graffiti artist Banksy. The “bemusement park,” as it was called, was intended to turn the idea of the theme park on its head.
Banksy collaborated with over 50 other artists to create an anti-theme park intended to be everything Disneyland isn’t. Instead, attendees were subjected to dilapidated rides, fixed carnival games, and in-your-face political art at every turn.
Construction began in the summer of 2015 on the site of a run-down lido, or public swimming pool. Banksy and his team concocted a fake movie shoot as a cover story for the project, hanging signs that said “Grey Fox Productions” at the construction site to minimize speculation. The installation was finished by August and opened to the public on August 21st.
Dismaland featured work by artists such as Jeff Gillette, Jenny Holzer, and Bill Barminski, among others. The park’s attractions included conventional activities like mini golf and carnival rides. However, most of the sights consisted of large-scale art pieces.
A life-size sculpture of a woman under attack by birds, a caricature booth with a missing artist and sketches depicting the backs of people’s heads, and two semi-trucks welded together in an “S” shape were just a few of the works on display.
Some installations included human actors, as in the case of one person dressed as the Grim Reaper who drove a single bumper car on an otherwise empty track. The park was also “staffed” by purposefully unhelpful employees dressed in black outfits and bright pink vests.
Tickets cost a reasonable three pounds per person. Thanks to the affordable admission and media buzz, the park received 150,000 visitors during its lifespan, including a few celebrities. Dismaland closed after its planned five-week run on September 27.
Tell Me More About Banksy
It’s likely that you’ve heard Banksy’s name. But how much do you know about his life and career?
Despite being anonymous, Banksy is one of the world’s most famous street artists. There’s speculation that he lived in the city of Bristol, England, before relocating to London in the late 1990s. Banksy’s distinctive stencil work started gaining notoriety during this time.
The artist’s first solo exhibition opened in Los Angeles on July 19, 2002. In the coming years, he moved away from the traditional art exhibition and toward a performance art aesthetic. Banksy painted live animals, threw wads of counterfeit cash into large crowds, and created pieces depicting celebrities and historical figures in a satirical manner.
Banksy caught the attention of wealthy art collectors before long. The famous British auction house Sotheby’s sold several of his original pieces, including Bombing Middle England, which sold for £102,000. Over time he created many more graffiti pieces on buildings (and even a mobile home), many of which eventually sold for several times their estimated value.
Banksy released his film Exit Through the Gift Shop at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010. The documentary was nominated for an Oscar that year. Since then, Banksy has produced dozens more original artworks, off-the-cuff exhibitions, and pop-up installations such as Dismaland.
Banksy’s identity remains unconfirmed despite receiving more notoriety than any graffiti artist in history.
What Was the Purpose of Dismaland?
Like much of Banksy’s work, Dismaland was a countercultural and political statement. But as a money-making venture, the park also undermined its stated purpose.
According to Maddoxgallery.com, the artist himself described Dismaland as a paradox: “A place where you can get your counterculture easily available over the counter. A theme park for the disenfranchised, with franchises available.”
Despite its contradictory goals, Dismaland ended up serving some beneficial purpose. The project boosted Weston-super-Mare’s local economy by racking up £20 million in revenue. That’s roughly $30 million! Visitors saw performances by famous music acts such as De La Soul, Pussy Riot, and Run the Jewels.
Dismaland was ultimately an artistic experiment that yielded positive results. But like any piece of art, its value can only be judged by the individuals who experienced it.
Did People Enjoy Visiting the Park?
The critical reception of Dismaland was primarily negative. News articles described the parks’ attractions as underwhelming and depressing.
The Guardian’s review of Dismaland was especially scathing. In his review for the publication, journalist Jonathan Jones writes of Banksy: “Devoid of ambiguity or mystery, everything he has created here is inert and unengaging.”
Not everyone shared this opinion, however. A reporter for the online magazine Widewalls noted that if viewed from its intended perspective, Dismaland achieved its stated goal. The park was, after all, supposed to be the polar opposite of the escapist fantasy offered by Disneyland.
The author writes: “Surely it is hopeless and depressive, but our social surroundings are not much different at all if we decide to take off our Disney glasses and take a real look at the world we live in.”
How Were the Materials Used After Dismaland Closed?
Dismaland ended its five-week run in late September. Rather than trashing or recycling the materials used to create the park, Banksy opted to use them for a charitable purpose.
The artist and his crew shipped useable items to the Calais Jungle, a large migrant and homeless encampment on the outskirts of Calais, France. They used the items to create shelters for the refugees and homeless population there. Banksy also created murals for the Jungle’s inhabitants to enjoy.
Many of Dismaland’s themes and installations directly spoke to the European refugee crisis. SocialNewsDaily.com recalled one specific piece, “a game with no clear winners in the end.” Despite icy reception from the media, Dismaland did ultimately help some of the people oppressed by the institutions it criticized.
Dismaland: Where Dreams Go to Die?
Dismaland was a bold experiment with mixed results. The very nature of the park made it tough for some attendees to enjoy. As members of a society obsessed with consumption and money, it’s hard not to feel as if we’re part of the problem Dismaland set out to critique.
Dismaland offered its audience a brief window into the harshness of the real world. But like all good art, it also reminded its audience that their responsibility is to help change that world.
Do you think Dismaland was a success? Did Banksy achieve the massive artistic goals he set out to accomplish? Let us know what you think!
Outside Folk Gallery
You can explore folk, street, and outsider art in our personal collection at Outside Folk Art. We’re celebrating these creatives and giving voice to rising black, Native, immigrant, and working mother artisans.
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