Monday, 21 September 2015

Rocks off in Dismaland

We've slalomed around the maze of cattle gates in front of the building and are now standing inside it,  in another queue facing CCTV cameras, metal detectors and baggage screening machines.

Everything is made out of cardboard.

The girl in the paper inspector's hat glares at the couple standing in front of us:
"Wipe that grin off your face," she says to the guy,"and take that hat off."
Perhaps not wanting to enter the spirit of the thing or maybe because he's a bit chilly in the austere vestibule, he fails to remove his wooly hat. 
"You heard what I said, sir, take the hat off!"
I can't see the expression on his face but his girlfriend is now looking up at him with now only a half smile. 
"Sir, I'm going to have to ask you to step to one side and assume the position."

While all this is going on, Robyn and I have been keeping tabs on the queue adjacent to us and now there's a gap, which we could jump into. But just as we're about to move, the other security guard , an equally fearsome piece of work, bars us with an upright palm. 
"Don't even think about it! I'm not being your second choice. Get back in line!"
We return to our original place and watch at the man finally removes his hat to reveal stylish, shoulder length hair.
"Disgusting!" says the security guard, "now put it back on."

We are, of course, in Dismaland

The entrance to Banky's Bemusement Park

For those of you who've been asleep or drinking too much in the last month, Dismaland is the temporary "Bemusement Park" set up by Banksy showing work by over 50 contemporary artists from around the eorld all of whom have a similar anger, humour and energy to the legendary street artist. If it was based in London or another one of Britain's cultural capitals, it would be another great must-see modern art show; another thing to tick off in your Time Out weekend attractions.

The view at night from the rather splendid bar - note the Disney-style castle actually looking quite fairy tale-like as opposed to its usual day time burned-out shell makeover.

But it's not happening there, it's happening in Bank's old seaside stomping ground up the road from Bristol, Weston Super Mare. The old Tropicana lido on the seafront has abandoned by the city council since the early 2000s much to locals ire and disgust. There are no municipal pools in the town and despite it being a picture perfect seaside resort, it has the reputation of being the ultimate Btitish summer holiday let-down location: crying children, rain, squalid hotel.  It's the perfect location for a state-of-the-nation contemporary art show.

Another bonus for us is that, now that we live in Stroud, it's very near. We came just after it opened
on a bright, blue-skyed day and stayed until chucking out time. Indeed closing time at Dismaland manifests as the incongruous Hawaian steel guitar soundtrack being interrupted on the tannoy by a gruff voice saying, "Dismaland is now closed. Go home. We don't want you here anymore."

And now we're here again on a Friday night in September. Partly because we wanted to come again before it closes at the end of this month (Boo!) but mainly for Sleaford Mods, a band almost too perfectly suited for such a venue.

Jason Williamson has some pointers for David Cameron.

Like Dismaland itself, Sleaford Mods don't need any introduction unless you've been hiding under the stairs got the last two years. In the picture above you can see frontman Jason Williamson in full on rap rant towards a handily placed canvas of David Cameron in dress suit, dicky bow, champagne flute aloft. Unfortunately my photograph has caught Cameron's suit and shirt but obliterated his face. Something which Williamson pretty much achieved over the course of the show: anticipating today's #piggate PR nightmare, he continually punctuated the tunes with shouts of "Piggies! Oink oink!"directly to the Cameron artwork.

Here's a pic I took the first time we went so you can see what the PM's face looks like in the day - if you look closely you can see a Banksy figure pushing the PM's poster off the wall like so much unwanted graffiti.

The Dismaland stage during this year's day of summer.

I love swearing. It's big and it's clever but only when it's done by the masters - think of Harold Pinter's sudden 'shit cake baker' exchange in No Man's Land, the best of  Derek and Clive, or more recently The Thick of It. It's funny and powerful and achieves the very opposite of when it's used by teenagers at bus stops or drunk cricket fans in pastel shirts. Sleaford Mods unleash a torrent of abuse in every song and you find yourself smiling, laughing outlaid and nodding along in agreement at what a mess we're all in.

And than's exactly what you do at Dismaland too. I don't want to come across as a sales representative for the place (indeed there would be no point as it comes to an end this week, no doubt before Disney's lawyer's can get their teeth into it) but there is so much fun to be had here (not least to see the old, witty and playful Damien Hirst back in full effect after years of investment banking and see some really great new art.

Finnish artist Jani Leinonen's modified cereal boxes. He also collects beggars' signs which he plans to exhibit in gold frames apparently.

Here's a great image gallery of some of the best exhibits put together somewhat ironically by arch lefty newshounds, The Daily Express.

There's also a tough politcal edge to the exhibition too - stalls highlighting how landlords are hiking up rents and forcing people out of their homes (it's happening a lot in Banksy's hometown), an ACAB stall and a self-contained exhibition space called Cruel Bus, which highlights the way urban design increasingly tracks, controls and manages us like cattle. It's a haunting 10 minutes and one that on both of our visits produces the longest queues. Also, it's put together by Jonathan Barnbrook who amongst other thing is Bowie's sleeve designer.

Robyn leaves the bus early, upset by a Morrissey-esque montage of pigs being slaughtered. I stay on, examining various pieces of police riot gear and some cute freebie sweets given away at fairs by weapons manufacturers. Suddenly a voice booms into the bus, startling everyone:
"Ben... Ben! BEN"
I turn round and see a member of the Dismaland staff in distinctive hi-vis DISMAL jacket.
"Er... yes, that's me..."
"Sort it out, Ben! You your wife's waiting for you outside. You might get your rocks off if your lucky."

I sheepishly exit avoiding eye contact with those still on the Cruel Bus.

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