Dismaland: Disneyland’s twin sister
In just a few years, the street artist known to the world under the pseudonym of Banksy has become a leading (and high-grossing) figure in the art world. Long before his much-visited show at the Bristol Museum in 2009, Banksy was already well-known for his stencils, charged with social and political critique, sprayed on walls across England.
Banksy’s latest project, Dismaland, returns to the open space of the city, but this time on a much larger scale than anything he has previously undertaken; indeed, it is a full-scale theme park. Apart from being an obvious pun on “Disneyland” the name is a foretaste not only of the park’s rather gloomy (and satirical) air, but also reflects the project’s strong critical vein.
Tropicana in Weston-super-Mare
Dismaland is a temporary installation, which will be open for just five weeks. It was erected in secret in the seaside resort town of Weston-super-Mare in Somerset (England) on the former site of the Tropicana, a lido with an open-air swimming pool, (where the young Banksy is supposed to have come to swim), which went out of business in 2000. Several subsequent attempts to revive the derelict site have all failed and the site must already have been pretty dismal before Banksy came to town. As well as work by Banksy himself, the “theme park” includes pieces by another 57 specially-invited guest artists, including such leading names as Jenny Holzer and Damien Hirst – probably the most bankable of all contemporary English artists.
As Banksy himself has said, the theme park “offers an escape from mindless escapism” – a definition that reflects his condemnation of the consumerist mode of production in contemporary capitalism, founded on a way of being in the city –and in the world– that is divested of any reflection whatsoever on its own workings and its influence on people’s lives. Nonetheless, Banksy (who rejects the use of the term “street art” to describe this project) does not himself escape criticism for trying to keep up his image as a street artist while at the same time rubbing shoulders with the powers-that-be of the art world. However, leaving to one side this hoary (and largely intractable) old chestnut, one does need to question the critical effectiveness of Banksy’s project, which is the only thing that would make this twin (and only a little more dismal) twin sister of Disneyland meaningful.