We sent Sally-Anne Hayward to soak up the ill-ease of Dismaland. And you know what? She loved it.
“Have you got any felt tip markers, guns or bombs in there?”
This was the question asked as I had my bag searched on entry.
“Why felt tip markers?” I asked the security man.
“Four million pound unicorn in there. Somebody wrote ‘I woz ‘ere’ on the Perspex.”
Welcome to Dismaland, Banksy’s latest creation housed at the former Tropicana Lido in Weston-super-Mare. Weston is a neglected seaside town on the Bristol Channel. According to local legend, the Tesco pharmacy prescribes more methadone than any other pharmacy in the UK. But, finally, it is on the map for different reasons. Now everybody is claiming some sort of connection to the town. People I speak to have, at some point, visited the Tropicana in the day and swam with Banksy. My boyfriend now boasts of childhood visits: “I tore my toenail off on the pineapple.” I laughed in his face and he told me not to question his Banksy credentials.
Although based on misery (Brad Pitt has to visit before doors open so as not to make people happy) Dismaland is truly wonderful news for the local community. North Somerset Council believes it will bring £7 million to the local economy and hotels and guest houses are already reporting a 20 per cent increase in calls about accommodation.
Upon entering. I watched a lad be separated from his family by the miserable security guards and told to stand on one leg while they pretended to frisk him. He laughed and they told him that at no point had they advised him to smile.
To begin with, I thought that the miserable staff in neon pink and Mickey Mouse ears would annoy me but in fact it was quite the opposite. I enjoyed their disdain at everything. At the end of our Ferris wheel ride, we were told to, “Come on, get off.” I watched a man trying to hook a duck to win a cardboard cut-out of a piece of frozen fish in a bag. Just as he was about to hook it, the stalltender pushed his rod out of the way to serve another customer.
I’m curious to know if it is as difficult to be that miserable all day as it is to be happy all day? I’ll ask the mother-in-law… (See what I did there?)
Once in, we queued for the gallery. We didn’t know what we were queuing for initially and for some time wondered if the queue was a joke. However, we got in and what a treat: artwork from artists all over the world. We walked in as Banksy’s Grim Reaper was riding about on his dodgem. I was asked to take a photo by a man who wanted it to be of him staring up to the top of Dietrich Wegner’s mushroom cloud installation that’s also a tree house. I ended up doing numerous shots for him as he was displeased with all my attempts at pushing his phone camera button. Maybe he was part of the joke.
A whole room was given over to a piece of work by Jimmy Cauty, former member of KLF and famous for burning £1million as a piece of art. He has made an entire town frozen in the moment after a huge period of civil unrest. When asked if he had a favourite part of the village, he answered, “No, I hate all of it.” For me though it is mind-blowingly brilliant. So much is involved in it – I was in there for an hour staring at billboards, street signs, flashing police lights, trees, fields…
Back outside, a storm trooper (I thought it was a robot and apparently this was hilarious) roamed aimlessly around carrying a black balloon with the words, “I am an imbecile” printed on it. We watched films on an outdoor screen while sitting in beach deckchairs. Large Post-it-type notes were on a wall with words written on: “You heartattack me” and “Just because you’re a bit dead doesn’t mean you’re not the most real person I’ve met in years.”
Payday loans were available for kids at 5,000 per cent APR. Children could also apply for a bouncy castle mortgage, rent to own gobstoppers and were being offered money for healthy teeth (cash transfer direct to your pillow).
There was so much to see. The famous Cinderella scene where the carriage has collided and the paparazzi are photographing the scene rather than helping. Guerilla Island with a bus-mounted museum and library. Of course, the four million pound unicorn. (I looked for the graffiti but it had been cleaned away.)
In fact, the whole experience of Dismaland made me feel pretty awesome – which I am not sure was the aim. Even the queue was quick. The only annoying thing was people getting in front of me with their cameras when I was trying to take my photos.
I was in there for four hours and am keen to go back, so make sure you give yourself time to take it all in. Exit through the gift shop and don’t forget to spend some money in Weston-Super-Mare.
The bemusement park is open from 11am-11pm until 27 September. £3 on the door or go to www.dismaland.co.uk to book a guaranteed time slot (£5 including booking fee, free for under-fives. Tickets are being released online slowly so keep checking if you are unlucky the first time.2795 Views