Far away lies the great kingdom of Dismaland

By Francesca Dale 

The most talked about exhibition of the summer is Banksy’s Dismaland – or is it a theme park? Nobody seems to know the answers. Everything within the walls of Weston-Super-Mare’s Dismaland is a mystery; nothing can be understood at first glance.

Banksy's Dismaland Photograph: Francesca Dale
Banksy’s Dismaland                                   Photograph:

The thought-provoking visuals of the area are disastrously dismal and an artistic novelty when considering the work of prolific modern artists of the twenty-first century. The sinister and satirical nature of the exhibit extends through the artwork and is aided by the current unpleasant British weather and the bored and downright miserable workers that patrol the park with nothing that remotely resembles a smile animating their faces.

Everything that surrounds Dismaland is met with questions and suspicions. The website experienced extreme problems on opening day as more than six million users were active on the site at any given point of the day trying to purchase a ticket. Is it merely a technical difficulty or all part of the dismal experience Banksy has tried to generate in a mockery of societal conventions?

On entry to the park you are met with vast queues as the country flocks to see this five-week only production. One is welcomed into what initially looks like an airport security station alongside police force figures, yet is merely a farce. In fact, you have just entered Bill Barminski’s ‘Screening Room’, a cardboard surveillance room. One by one you are ordered to look into cardboard cameras that are scanning the room and enter under the eyes of the grumpy Dismaland security staff; laughing will only result in a stare down and a delayed entrance to the site. Barminski states that his work ‘looks cool’.

Inside Dismaland there are more areas that explore man made items and conventions that aim to create a sense of control and procedure like Barminski’s screening room. The ‘Museum of Cruel Designs’ is a bus-mounted exhibition inside the park that surveys the use of design for social control internationally. Dr Gavin Grindon curated this museum to display items that are created to hurt people. Grindon investigates how designs within cities, such as those for benches or policeman uniforms, are an example of government policy systemising and normalising violence. The bus-styled museum is quite alarming and adults must make their own decision as to whether to bring in their children.

'Museum of Cruel Design' by Dr Gavin Grindon Photograph: Francesca Dale
‘Museum of Cruel Designs’ by Dr Gavin Grindon                   Photograph:

Upon entering the park one may feel misled, as it appears less dismal than one would expect. At first glance, in the attractions area, there appears to be a merry-go-round with horses for passengers to mount and enjoy. However, when one takes a closer look the horses are surrounding a white-coated professor sitting on a box of ‘Lasagne’ with a hanging bleeding horse above him; the artist is directing attention to the recent British horse-meat scandal.

Other amusement attractions in the park consist of ‘Hook a Duck from the Muck’ which involves hooking a toy duck which is drenched in black paint, commenting on the sea pollution and environmental issues our modern society faces. If one hooks the duck you are rewarded ironically with a literal plastic ‘fish finger’ in a bag. Next to the ducks is a remote control boat game in which one can happily drive a boat along the water, although at a closer look the boat appears to be crammed with migrants fleeing their country.

Spoilt for choice, you can also try your luck at shooting down a can. However, they suspiciously seem to be stationary even when the cork of the gun is shot directly at them – winning isn’t an option here in Dismaland.

The main exhibit of Dismaland,  ‘The Galleries’, is home to many weird and wonderful pieces of artwork; Dismaland represents more than fifty artists from seventeen nations who have visited Dismaland to install their pieces. Some did not visit; one artist had to send his piece, as he himself was not allowed to the country. Other artists had also been imprisoned in their countries in the past for their work.

Upon entry to the building you are greeted by Banksy’s ‘Dance of Death’, which involves the appearance of a grim reaper spinning around on a dodgem accompanied by loud uncontrollable music.

Next, one stumbles across what resembles an atomic bomb explosion but in reality is Dietrich Wegner’s mushroom cloud tree house installation; it is both beautiful yet a threatening symbol of the dangers of weapons of mass destruction in war.

'Mushroom Cloud' by Dietrich Wegner Photograph: Francesca Dale
‘Mushroom Cloud’ by Dietrich Wegner    Photograph:

The largest single piece of work presented in the artwork building is Jimmy Cauty’s ‘Aftermath Displacement Principle’. The piece consists of 3,000 handmade riot policeman figures in a model village. The artist creates a model scene of a motionless town in a time period after an epidemic of civil unrest. Policemen are seen swarming the area in helicopters, cars, vans and boats, nothing but the police force remains and no civilians are to be seen. Cauty states that it is ‘based on the stuff that’s in your imagination’.

Dismaland is full of work created by the most infamous street artists from around the world and is truly one of a kind – see it before it goes. There’s no place like Dismaland.

 Banksy’s Dismaland is on at  Marine Parade, Weston-Super-Mare until 27th September 2015

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