Wrriten By: Aurora Caskey
Edited by: Grave Reviews Staff
What was Dismaland?
Dismaland Bemusement Park, a large-scale art exhibition launched in 2015, is still capturing attention with its nightmarish distortion of Disney characters several years after closing its doors. Dismaland was conceived and launched by the anonymous British street artist and social activist known only as Banksy.
Described as a “family theme park unsuitable for children”, the Dismaland was only exhibited from August 21, 2015 to its closing date of September 27, 2015. The park was constructed in Weston-super-mare, a seaside town in Somerset, UK. It was built on the site of the Tropicana, a pool and recreation park that closed in 2000. Residents in the area who glimpsed structures being constructed for the park were told it was being used to film a major motion picture. Dismaland featured 10 art pieces designed by Banksy, as well as the work of 58 other artists handpicked by the provocateur himself.
What did it look like?
The design of the park was clearly meant to evoke and satire Walt Disney Land. There was a large, crumbling version of Cinderella’s castle with a distorted statue of Ariel outside. Elsewhere, one can see Cinderella herself, dead, hanging from her crashed carriage as photographers snap pictures. This is clearly meant to comment on the role of the paparazzi in the death of Princess Diana.
Guests entering the park are immersed in the art right away. The first stop is a stylized ‘security’ screening room made entirely of white cardboard. There’s a metal detector, an xray machine, various weapons, and dirty latex gloves scattered around the room. Allegedly, Dismaland employees, outfitted in Mickey Mouse-esque ears, lived up to the park’s name by being unpleasant and downright rude.
The ‘Ride of Death’ lets the viewer watch as a skeleton grim reaper careens around on a bumper car to the tune of ‘Stayin’ Alive’. Dismaland also had a couple of actual rides: a ferris wheel that stops at the top and a small trailer that spins around as riders are fixed in place. There was a lake with remote-controlled boats filled with figures meant to be desperate refugees. However, the levels that appear to control the boats actually do nothing but frustrate the operator. Ducks from the duck pond game are covered with oil, like what we see after a major oil spill disaster.
Other horrors can be seen on a functional carousel with a cruel twist. One of the horses is in the process of being butchered by a man holding a machete. Another critique of factory farming can be seen in the Museum of Cruel Objects, which displays a video of stun tongs being used to kill sheep and pigs. Despite all the disturbing imagery, a surprising amount of children were amongst the guests every day at Dismaland.
During its short run, Dismaland offered 4,000 tickets per day, sold for the very low price of £3 each (about $3.36 USD). Like all of Banksy’s work, the goal of Dismaland was not to make money. Banksy self-funds his big projects, including the construction of Dismaland. The admission fee was likely just enough for the project to break even. Any money Banksy makes, he puts into his company Pest Control to be used for future projects.
So what was Dismaland’s purpose? From the official brochure:
“Are you looking for an alternative to the soulless sugar-coated banality of the average family day out? Or just somewhere cheaper. Then this is the place for you—a chaotic new world where you can escape from mindless escapism. Instead of a burger stall, we have a museum. In place of a gift shop we have a library, well, we have a gift shop as well.
Bring the whole family to come and enjoy the latest addition to our chronic leisure surplus—a bemusement park. A theme park whose big theme is: theme parks should have bigger themes…”
How did he get permission from Walt Disney to do this?
Banksy gave a rare interview with The Guardian where he discussed his motivations for opening Dismaland. He emphasized wanting to take his art to new places by taking a risk. He quoted Richard Ashcroft saying, “It’s not art unless it has the potential to be a disaster.” During the park’s short run, Banksy avoided legal trouble from Walt Disney. One reason could be that British copyright law allows for “parody, caricature, and pastiche” to be a viable defense in copyright infringement cases. Or perhaps the park was open for such a short time that Disney did not want to bad press that would come with attacking a world-renowned artist.
Or maybe it’s because Dismaland wasn’t so much an attack on Disney, but rather an attack on the ugliness and lack of empathy in Western society in general. The horrors on display there were so much more meaningful because they were real. “The fairytale is over, the world is sleepwalking towards climate catastrophe, maybe all that escapism will have to wait.”
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