Unfortunately The BRISTOLIAN’s exclusive invite to last Thursday’s private view of Banksy’s Dismaland alongside leading art establishment critics like the Sunday Times’ Waldemar Januszczak and the Telegraph’s Mark Hudson went mysteriously missing in the post.
Maybe this goes to show that Banksy’s smart enough to know that pandering to the Murdoch press and elite art critics is a far better career move for the upwardly mobile self-consciously anti-authoritarian street artist than courting half-pissed old radicals who aren’t likely to bother talking you or your work up anyway? Or maybe the postal service is just crap?
For a militant anti-corporate, Banksy’s consistently efficient deployment of sophisticated corporate PR techniques has always been at least as impressive as his art. No doubt people out there who ‘get’ Banksy will explain that his well-oiled corporate PR machine is a prime example of the artist’s highly attuned sense of ‘irony’. As, no doubt, are pisspoor ticket booking systems, absurdly long queues and an entire absence of event management skills.
‘Ironies’ the Bristolian experienced first-hand having attempted last Friday to buy tickets through Banksy’s pisspoor web-based booking system. Then instead having to queue on Saturday for four hours to get in to country’s most talked-about visitor attraction because the booking system had ‘ironically’ gone tits-up.
How we laughed at the brilliance of all this ‘irony’ (a crap theme park with a crap booking system, geddit?) Especially hilarious when ordinary punters with shit to do get pissed about while a small band of wealthy establishment critics, journalists and hangers-on from West London – with sod all that’s important to do – get to swan around and leer out of newspapers and TV sets at you from the heart of this radical, anti-corporate attraction sporting their ‘I’ve-brownnosed-all-areas’ passes.
Here at the Bristolian we were particularly delighted to watch that dangerous radical Krishnan Guru-Murthy of Chanel 4 News, armed with one of those incendiary PPE degrees from Oxford University, wandering around an empty Dismaland helpfully explaining its complexities to us. Krishnan even managed to slip into his prime time news package that he knew who Banksy was! Very cosy.
If you’re not a posh bloke off the TV from West London then getting into Dismaland is a lot more difficult. Queue two hours to get a ticket from a pink fibre glass shed weirdly encased in a pointless framework of 4 x 2 (no doubt people out there who ‘get’ Banksy can tell you whether this is ‘ironic’ or not) then wait another two hours while staff let punters in ten at a time.
The extra wait is so that you can experience a comedy security routine created by Bill Barminski from California. Consisting of cardboard cameras, X-ray machines, metal detectors and a team of game security staff asking daft questions, it’s all a bit weird as you’ve already been searched by proper security and had your biro confiscated. Which makes the installation more a satire on Banksy insecurity, paranoia and losing the plot – underlying Dismaland themes – rather than on the intended target: this country’s ludicrous security obsession.
Once inside the ‘Bemusement Park’ the visitor is presented with a dilemma. When the artist’s chosen medium is crap, what’s the deliberate crap and what’s just crap? In the former column we can safely put the main exhibit, the Princess’s Castle. A fully realised three-dimensional Banksy with obvious nods to Disney.
Aficionados of fly tipping, municipal tips, urban river pollution, rundown industrial estates and inner city blight will love this. Well executed with a fine attention to detail, you can’t help but stop to admire the carefully unarranged distressed corrugated iron, top class rusted barbed wire, the lovingly arranged turds, shopping trolleys, litter and half-sunken boat in the moat and a spectacular cop meat wagon water feature. Inside, we’re even treated to a decent Banksy gag. A wry comment on media and celebrity, which, although more relevant to the artist and his celebrity buyers than us, sits nicely in the Banksy canon.
The only problem with it is that it appears to have consumed the whole Dismaland budget. Look around the rest of the show and nothing gets close. OK, there’s three galleries of contemporary art where you can find some Damian Hirst, Jenny Holzer and something totally fucking mental by Jimmy Caunty if that’s your thing. There’s a few interesting sculptures strewn around the park too.
But much of the rest is half ideas and desperate one-liners by Phil Space. The Mini Gulf, “an oil caliphate themed crazy golf course”, says nothing about big oil or anything else for that matter and is an unexplored pun. A selection of unwinnable fairground attractions – hook-a-mucky-duck, the shooting gallery and knock over an anvil – are half worked ideas. While the much-vaunted refugee themed ‘Mediterranean boat ride’ adds very little new on the subject although, in fairness, it is quite smart-arsed.
No doubt people out there who ‘get’ Banksy will tell you that these exhibits are ‘ironic’ and ‘subversive’. And yes they are. But no more ironic or subversive than, say, the ‘Shrek’ movie, which shares many similar themes. Is Dismaland basically a Hollywood production with fly tipping?
Even Banksy’s leisure worker drones in their pink hi-viz working to a corporate script are an aimless cock-up. When we visited later in the day, many had already thrown away the ‘witty’ corporate script and instructions and were interacting with visitors normally. This should be applauded. Whether your boss is Banksy or Bob Iger, Disney Chief Exec, not doing what they tell you is a genuinely subversive act.
Another oddity is a protest politics department stuck in the corner of the site. No doubt people out there who ‘get’ Banksy will tell you this is not ironic. Which leaves you wondering if Banksy really thinks staring at a couple of Damian Hirst’s and taking a ride on a rusty ferris wheel is going to get people demanding the immediate overthrow of capitalism and rushing on to the streets to protest? Or will they be heading to one of the well-stocked bars to upload their Dismaland selfies to Facebook?
More bizarre is a roving group of placard-waving anarchists protesting ‘reality’. What’s that all about then? The concern here isn’t even with the bunch of confused youngsters doing a performance of a protest in a satire of a fake but for Banksy himself. Because Dismaland isn’t really about art or protest or corporate leisure or capital at all. It’s a wealthy international celebrity’s fantasy theme park made real. And the last international celebrity to create his own theme park was?
And how did that work out again?