24 hours in Banksy’s Dismaland, Weston-super-Mare

After months of watching people come and go, and strange things happening within the old Lido walls, the doors of the abandoned Tropicana site will finally re-open to the local residents of Weston-super-Mare… hosting the New Banksy show ‘Dismaland, Bemusement park’. GraffitiStreet rock up super early to check out the queue and find out exactly what the locals feel about the elusive Banksy paying them a visit.

Banksy has instructed the first public opening of Dismaland (Friday 21st August 2015) to be ‘all about the local residents’ who live in the North Somerset area. Entrance to Dismaland is strict, passports, utility bills and an invitation from the Weston Mercury Paper are all needed to gain access into the Bemusement Park. Basically, If you’re not a local… you’re not coming in!

We arrive at 5:30AM to check on two ladies, Tallulah and Jo, who we met last night. They braved the elements and camped over night to be first in the Dismaland queue. Still fast asleep in their tents, we decide not to wake them and join the already growing queue, and nestle in between the local residents of North Somerset.

It’s not long before the crowd starts queueing and Banksy fever fills the sea air…

Everyone is excited about Dismaland and the residents are keen to see Weston-super-Mare prosper from the six-week event. Weston-super-Mare will benefit hugely from Banksy’s show, local hotels are already seeing an increase in bookings and will be fully booked over the next few weeks. The ‘Banksy versus Bristol‘ Museum show in 2009 attracted more than 300,000 visitors over 12 weeks and was estimated to have boosted the local economy by £10m.

“The queue is already building nicely here, we’ve estimated the economic benefit (for Weston) is at least £6m, there’s a real buzz about the town” Mike Jackson, leader of North Somerset Council

Many of the locals in the queue want to see the Tropicana Lido site re-open and the huge building brought back to life… it has been derelict for over 15 years! Others are nostalgic and excited to be able to bring their children to the Lido centre which they once enjoyed as children themselves.

We sit amongst the friendly locals and wait for the sunrise, the dustmen fill the quiet morning dawn with noise… all of us now gasping for a hot coffee to wake us and warm us from the chilly sea breeze.

We meet local celebrity Terry Hutt, who has dressed to impress! Terry is very happy Banksy has put Weston-super-Mare on the map, the pier holds a special place in Terry’s heart… It was on the pier 57 years ago that he proposed to his wife, so Terry campaigns to help salvage Weston’s Birnbeck Pier and takes advantage of the queue of locals to sign his campaign.

We chat with local resident Mike who brought photos of the Lido centre when it was a popular holiday resort back in the 1980s, very nostalgic for me as I visited Tropicana as a child myself… Mike wears his Disney t-shirt of Mickey Mouse in rebellion to the Dismal theme he’s pro Disney but appreciates Banksy’s message.

The queue is as long as the eye can see… and only one thousand locals will gain free entry.

It’s almost 9 am and the count down begins. Surprisingly there are no delays for the Dismal theme park. The ticket office opens on time, and the Mercury paper proudly welcomes the locals, tightly fitting the silver Mercury wrist bands, instructing visitors these are not to be sold.

The Dismaland Bemusement park does not open until 1100 am so another queue congregates outside the Tropicana entrance. This doesn’t dampen the spirit of the local residents and another two-hour queue quickly passes by…

11 am arrives, and again on time, our bags are checked by well dressed security personnel for knives, marker pens, spray cans and illegal drugs…and along with lawyers from the Walt Disney corporation… are strictly prohibited! 

“This is a different kind of family day out- one that sends a more appropriate message to the next generation sorry kids…”.Banksy

Visitors are guided through the security screening room with fake metal detectors and are met with some abrupt security staff ordering us to move on. There is no airport hospitality here today!

Once you go through the ‘airport style’ security entrance you are ‘greeted’ by bored, uninterested staff not happy to help, wearing bright fluorescent pink hi-vis jackets with ‘Dismal’ on the back… contrasting to their grey mood and beaten ‘Mickey Mouse’ ears…

Finally we get to see a glimpse of what’s hidden inside the walls of this derelict seaside resort. A step away from spraying street art on walls, this is Banksy’s graffiti ideas rendered into 3 dimensional life.

“I didn’t deliberately set out to snub street art. I just found other stuff a lot more interesting” Banksy

I feel like Alice in Wonderland my eyes frantically scan the demented assortment of bizarre, weird and wonderful politically charged artworks from 58 global artists… which includes the likes of Damien Hirst, Jenny Holzer, Jimmy Cauty, Bill Barminski, Caitlin Cherry, Polly Morgan, Josh Keyes, Mike Ross, David Shrigley, Bäst, and Espo just to mention a few… Banksy is also showing 10 artworks of his own.

Firstly you are greeted with Aerial…Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid’. It looks as if television interference is taking its toll on her suggesting Aerial is broken. She lies in murky water littered with plastics and fast food boxes, a reminder of careless disposal of waste, a message shared by Bordalo II.  Aerial lies in front of the decayed castle, a comparison to the Lido centre, left to decay for 15 years. There are tesco bags, as flags, caught on the steeples blowing in the sea breeze, a reference to Banksy’s tesco mural in Shoreditch which is titled ‘Every Little Helps’.

Walk onto the bridge and through the decaying castle doors and its pitch black, you are guided through the darkness by the faint sound of cameras snapping, you follow the sound until you are suddenly greeted by a tragic crash scene. Illuminated by a blizzard of flash photography, from the surrounding group of paparazzi photographers, is a dead Cinderella spilling through the window of her carriage.  It is a pumpkin-carriage crash with two mopeds, who were apparently in pursuit for photos. You soon realise no one is helping her… the paparazzi are more concerned with taking photos and the news story they can sell, chillingly echoing the untimely death of Britain’s much-loved Princess, Diana, who was fatally killed when she was involved in a paparazzi motorbike chase in August 1997. The piece is controversial shocking, evocative and emotional… Banksy at his very best.

Treating the crash as an ‘attraction’ and keeping within the theme park commercial opportunity, we purchase the souvenir photo. This was taken as we walked in… all smiles as we are positioned behind the paparazzi… contributing to the unhealthy media craze of celebrities.

Another powerful and distressing piece by Banksy is the Boat race which highlights the refuge crisis on the shores of europe. The remote-controlled motor boats are crammed full of refugees… you are invited to play the game and dodge the bodies floating lifeless in the sea. Definitely thought-provoking, this is not a game this is real life… thousands of people are dying in the Mediterranean fleeing from war zones and repression. The boats will not stop coming, because there is no other place to go. They would rather risk death than stay.

Banksy stencil artwork can be found on the wall mimicking the Lido’s showers with two young boys taking a peak of a lady having a shower, and a clever use of some old plastic to represent the shower curtain.

There is a riot-control vehicle from Northern Ireland that’s been turned into a children’s slide which not so surprisingly remains untouched due to the grim lake it sits in.

A modern Punch and Judy puppet show is written by Julie Burchill. Julie, being a victim of domestic violence herself highlights the fact that British children are brought up laughing at this comical  character Punch beating up his wife Judy, and after the children applaud and cheer, what sort of message are we sending out to children… the wrong one!

We watch the self-operated puppet revue show, Fly Tip Theatre, an unlikely collaboration between East London graphic gunslinger Paul Insect and high fashion vandal Bast. It’s constructed entirely from the contents found in Hackney skips. Make sure you find the Donald Duck… whose on crack crack!

There is a Pocket money loan shop by artist Darren Cullen, that offers loans to children at the generous interest rate of 5,000 percent APR, which states is 853% cheaper than Wonga!  PocketMoneyLoans.com helps you buy the things you can’t afford and usually they will loan you just a little bit more than you can afford to repay, and you want a free toy? Simply run up a late-payment rollover charge of £400 or more and they’ll send you your very own free ‘Mr. Repayment’ coin toy!

Banksy’s Orca leaping out of a toilet bowl, jumping through a hoop, held by a trainer, with a children’s pool awaiting the whale delivers a powerful punch to the already sinking SeaWorld. Orcas do not belong in captivity in theme parks like SeaWorld where they are trained to performed humiliating tricks to entertain people. Orcas are incredibly social and intelligent animals and living in cruel cramped conditions does not provide them with the stimulation, exercise and fulfilment they need.

Banksy’s installation of an old woman being attacked by pigeons as she sits on the bench, a regular occurence in any sea-side holiday resort. Could this be a reference to the bird woman, from Mary Poppins, who sits on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral, selling bags of breadcrumbs to passers-by for tuppence a bag so that they can feed the many pigeons which surround the old woman. It is reputed to have been Walt Disney’s favorite song.

Big Rig Jig, is an impressive artwork on a mammoth scale by Mike Ross who’s idea came while thinking about power.

Dismal fairground would not be complete without a carousel. This one looks completely normal until the ride exposes a butcher producing lasagna out of carousel horses, referring to the recent horsemeat scandal which rocked British supermarkets in 2013 when foods advertised as containing beef were found to contain undeclared or improperly declared horse meat, as much as 100% of the meat content in some cases… all for cheaper meat supplies.

Exiting the castle the outdoor cinema invites you to sit down on the lido steps… the original pink paint barely holding on.

We found ourself heavily handicapped at the ‘Mini Gulf’ which is billed as ‘an oil caliphate themed crazy golf course’ made from the hockey pitch at Cheltenham Ladies college.

Following a dismal result and after bumping into Star Wars storm trooper standing next to R2D2, we make our way over to the Rehab pizza kitchen, an authentic wood fired oven serving delicious thin pizza with amazing toppings… all their rocket salad, herbs and spices are grown at the Severn Project, a farm working with recovering addicts. For the pizza lovers out there we highly recommend the goats cheese and golden beetroot pizza.

There is another queue forming for the ferris wheel going in reverse and will definitely bring on nausea to the best adrenalin filled junky… you have been warned!

We walk around the show and we are invited (pushed) into a tent full of weird and wonderful creations! From Damien Hirst’s ‘Unicorn’ to other eccentric creatures which include artist Scott Hove’s snarling animal mouth, which we are told is made from cake icing. You’ll also find Marvin the sinister, cute and disgruntled rabbit in a hat holding what appears to be a broken magic stick. Then there’s a dining table full with crockery which is a 3-dimensional resemblance to that of Disney’s Beauty and The Beast mixed with a bull in a china shop!

We made our way inside to the three galleries on site. You are welcomed (every 15 minutes) by Banky’s Grim Reaper… this Banksy classic depicts ‘Death’ enjoying the bumper cars at the theme park.       Other pieces that caught our eye include work by Dubliner Caroline McCarthy’s, titled ‘Promise is a sea of ready meals with plants growing from them’.

As you walk into the second gallery there is a captivating piece by Gloucestershire based artist Damien Hirst called ‘The History of Pain’ which displays a beach ball which floats over a bed of knives.

Here you’ll also find works by American contemporary artist Josh Keyes who’s art is a hybrid of eco-surrealism and dystopian folktales that express a concern for our time and the Earth’s future.

A giant atomic mushroom cloud dominates the gallery concealing a tree house, with only the ladder visible.

“The ephemeral beauty of a mushroom cloud is frightening, how it floats for a minute, delicate and blooming, yet remains chaotic and utterly destructive. We experience a contradiction between what our eyes enjoy and what our mind know” Dietrich Wegner

A huge Banksy canvas represents a mother making sure her child is safe on the beach by applying sun factor, a hat for his head, snorkel and a lifebuoy… whereas behind her she is blissfully unaware of the huge tidal wave about to engulf them both… a thought provoking piece with a multitude of meanings.

Grenada based artist Paco Pomet has a few of his works displayed which are laced with black humour and sublime craftsmanship, and which includes a cookie monster riding a jeep with the Taliban.

Inside the galleries are porcelain mice with human ears attached to their backs, car drilled tapestry, tattood royal Doulton dolls, James Cauty’s impressive riot village and much much more…

” This is a fairground that… encourages you to consider, not just to consume, to look, not just to spectate and most important of all – beware of uneven floor surfaces” Banksy

We certainly did that and now to exit the only way we know how…. through the gift shop.

The shop has t-shirts, posters and limited edition James Cauty police shields, with the smiley face theme we see throughout. All bags used are plastic bags from supermarkets and big stores recycled to put your purchases in… don’t expect to find any branded Dismaland bags here.

We pop back to base for a quick hour to recharge batteries and its time to return for the invite only opening evening event. The queue isn’t a 5 hour wait this time and a quick check gets us back in to Dismaland. The women are made to wear pink wrist bands and the men blue…

The atmosphere is electric and VIP guests soon get into the fun fair spirit and play some ludicrously impossible fair games like knocking over the anvil with a ping-pong ball by David Shrigley and shooting games to win some bling…only its impossible and your encouraged to loot the chains from the stall.

” Think of this as a fairground that embraces brutality and low level criminality – so a fairground then”. Banksy

Hook a duck from the muck is one of the many games on offer. Ducks are in dirty water and Mr stork (could this be a Dumbo reference?) is covered in tar and holding used beer cans in its mouth highlighting the damage waste causes to wild life and the tar spillage in the oceans. If you win the prize instead of the traditional goldfish crammed into a plastic bag there is a fish finger friendly alternative.

Dismaland lights up against the dark night and it certainly has the magically feel of a fun fair with guests enjoying the party… its only when you stop and look, or play a game that you are reminded of the darker side of the theme park.

The bonfire kindled by the works of the disgraced peer and crime novelist Jeffrey Archer warms up the evening…

And shortly after we are also treated to tribal drum playing by the Bristol Samba club.

As the bemusement park comes to a close a big panic buy of all the merchandise takes place in the gift shop… while surprise fireworks fill the sky from the gloomy castle, the fortunate ones still left outside in the (no)fun-fair get to see the juxtaposition of the beautiful lit backdrop to the decayed Dismal park.

The staff stay in character as people exit through the gift shop onto the promenade of Weston-super-Mare and their farewell words are “have a dismal life”.

However, we do hope the staff won’t be as dismal when we meet them at the invite only after-party. With the continued free alcohol flowing we put our cameras down and party into the night… a 24 hour Banksy roller coaster!… Yeah its been one hell of a ride!

How to get tickets for Dismaland Bemusement Park?

Dismaland is open until September 27 with a max. of 4000 tickets available daily. Following a dismal start, online ticket sales are now commencing Tuesday 25th September. A limited amount of tickets are available from the ticket office opposite Dismaland on a first come first served basis. Our advise is to just head up to Weston-super-Mare and join the queue from the early hours (before 9AM). Demand is expected to be very high, especially on Fridays, which are billed to feature performances by musicians including Run the Jewels, Pussy Riot, Massive Attack, and more

It’s competition time …

We were lucky enough to get our hands on Dismaland on some loot and in total we are giving away 3 top prize packages which includes:

– An official Dismaland T-shirt of your choice, 2 designs and 3 colour-ways to choose from    (sizes are:     S,M,L,XL)
– An official brand new (never inflated) I’m an Imbecile balloon
– An official Dismaland Show program

In order to have a chance to WIN one of the 3 supercool prize packages, simply share our facebook post and tag one of your friends in the comments.

The competition closes on midday on the 27th September and winners will be contacted shortly afterwards.

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All pictures courtesy GraffitiStreet.com – please do not reproduce without our permission.



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