By Catalina Righter
Dismaland, the latest project by street artist Banksy, is an art exhibition that takes the form of a bemusement park, charging real-life people real-life ticket prices to see its attractions.
Though the exhibitions are good for a moment of that in-on-the-joke feeling, they rely a lot on shock value and don’t tell us much that’s new. Atomic bombs are bad. Police states are bad. We already know that.
Maybe the artists intend to interject these harsh reminders into a sweet setting and make them more real for viewers, to wake up from a “world [that] is sleepwalking towards climate catastrophe,” as the park’s brochure describes. Instead they come off as trivialized, about as representative of pressing issues as the Small World ride is of global relations.
The park is partly successful as an art piece when guests are added to the mix. Buying a ticket is implicitly satirical. Guests play the part of the idiot who would pay for something to make himself more miserable. This is an apt commentary on the patrons of Disneyland and similar theme parks who are paying for an unforgettable experience and often get one of a different kind.
Unfortunately, Dismaland falls victim to its own irony when placed in context of its own existence. The reality of the project is that most patrons are drawn to Dismaland by its association with Banksy’s celebrity, not their desire for social criticism. While the park claims to mock Disney’s hollow promises of happiness it makes its own hollow promises that guests will be part of the cult celebrity and smartass intellectualism that surrounds Banksy. Can work really be subversive when it is so popular with the general public that, according to BBC News, the ticket website crashes due to demand?
A speech from today’s loudmouth political personalities translates as a better shock-art piece. At least those force us to re-evaluate our idea of a political leader and possibly feel quite dismal indeed.
In terms of social comment Dismaland leaves the same impression as a lite beer; good for the initial buzz but lacking depth and flavor.