Is It Our Everyday Life?

By Baptiste Léger.

Environmental crisis. Political scandal. Immigration crisis. Meat scandal. Are crisis and scandals our everyday life? Are we able to face them? The 21st August 2015 the well-known street artist Banksy opens the temporary amusement park Dismaland in Weston-Super-Mare England, near to Bristol. This location is not innocuous, the park is built on an old swimming-pool named Tropicana, closed in 2000, where the street artist Banksy went during his childhood. The link to the sad amusement park and a past childhood can be interesting. As we grow up we are better able to understand that our society is not really what we are thinking. Everything isn’t perfect. Here is the message given by Banksy.

Banksy is today one of the most notorious street-artists. The street is his medium. Thanks to stencil and mostly black and white color, Banksy re-appropriates streets. Graffiti is an effective means of expression: we inevitably look at them when we are walking in the street. He is well-known, but not known, his anonymity makes who he is. Banksy provokes, Banksy shocks. In 2006 he puts a blowup doll wearing a Guantanamo orange uniform in Disneyland. The public mostly knows his graffities as “There Is Always Hope” in London. This 2003 artwork represents a little girl losing her heart balloon. In his works he denounces war, deprivation of liberty, consumer society, injustice, capitalism. Sadly, his famous artist position sells his graffities to incredible prices, 5 years ago “Slave Labor” was acquired for 1.1 million dollars. Too bad for an anti-capitalist.

Dismaland is a scary place where we did not find only Banksy artwork, in fact he was the curator. This park is a collaboration with 58 other artists as Jessica Harrison, Mike Ross and Damien Hirst. This place appears as a Disneyland of sarcasm. Banksy is playing with amusement park codes, for example speakers are spreading happy music, but this background sound merely covers up the reality. At some moments this lovely music is interrupted by Jenny Holzer slogans as “you are a victim of the rules you live by”. The chao is everywhere.

The building entrance has a decrepit façade. The staff is wearing Mickey Mouse ears and pink jackets, they make you feel unwelcome. You are uncomfortable, embarrassed, but that is only the beginning. They have the instruction not to smile, they are dragging feet with a vacant look. If one of them tells you that you have ugly trousers it is totally normal. In the park the visitors are not allowed to laugh and say Thank You. What a mood. It’s a way to denounce an individual society. The sarcasm of the artist is visible to balloon seller, on those balloons we can read “I am an imbecile”. Human individualism is also shown inside the destroyed Disneyland Castle, where we see Cinderella carriage crash. All around the scene, paparazzi taking pictures of this dead body and aren’t helping her. The show instead of human life.

The Disneyland codes are used in a sarcastic way by the curator. A carrousel is diverted with a butcher around horses. At his feet: lasagna boxes, reminding us on the European horse meat scandal in 2013, this year a food fraud is discovered in England and propagates in all Europe. Meat traders were accused of replacing bovine meat by horse meat, because latter is cheaper. A lot of agribusiness firms were affected by this Horsegate, as journalists called this affair. But the first to be hit are consumers, they were deceived in favor of profits. This affair had a big visibility in the media, mades the front page of many newspaper and television news before being swept by another more interesting scandal.

Forget the Parisian fountain of the Jardin Des Tuileries where your kids can navigate their boats. In Dismaland you can take the control of a watercraft full of migrants. But be careful, coastguards are also here. This sad attraction denounces how the immigrants are treated in Europe. They are crammed on these small boats trying to leave war, famine, global warming towards Europe. A message is clearly addressed to countries as France, Italy and Greece, where the migrant holding is intolerable. The artist depicts migrant with deadpan faces, he uses a ghostly sad grey for his work. This interactive attraction is a real electroshock. It’s disturbing because it is true.

As you can see, there is so much sarcasm in a same place. But that’s not all. As a curator, Banksy has to talk about one of his favorite subjects: capitalism.

In the middle of the park, a small house throne. Colors are different as the rest of the park. Blue, white, yellow. A smiley, a picture of a happy kid. What is it? Here we have the capitalism attraction. It’s a pocket money bank with interest rates to 5000%. This place denounces the student loan make you go into debt during many years. This attraction has been life altering for the artist Darren Cullen. His “Pocket Money Loans” store where we can read sarcastic add as “Get out debt with a loan” discover him to the public. This symbol of the consumer society is seasoned to the curator’s dark sense of humor and activism.

Throughout, the entire amusement park is a mockery of the capitalist society. The immediate target is of course Disneyland. Banksy doesn’t like this method to get paid children to dream. With this place he stabs capitalism, criticizes consumerism, and in general our jammed society.

The climate crisis is also discussed through the artwork Hook A Duck. The artist realizes a sort of parody of this famous amusement park game. Here, the artist replaces the water by oil. In the middle of the pool, a seagull gets bogged down in this black viscous liquid. This game reminds us of our early childhood, he is taking on our emotions and memories to make us react. This is not the only artwork showing the human print on the nature. Dolphin Ride is a merrry-go-round where we can have a seat on the dolphin back. He is jumping above a barrel of oil and fishing net. We can see anger in this animal eyes probably to the pollution and the overfishing.

The Orca captivity is a subject address in different artwork. For example, we can see the work of Josh Keyes and also the Banksy sculpture. This is a very controversial topic, that is, of course, a pleasure for children to see giants of the sea in water-parks, but that’s also made Human as planet owner. The Orca is here jumping from a toilet bowl to a child pool. Is this animal only a toy, a distraction?

Dismaland was a temporary exhibition open on 21st August 2015 and closed the 27th September of the same year. For five weeks England welcomed the most delusional and depressed art installation. 150 000 worldwide visitors came to admire (and then cry) this “amusement” park. Artists had fun playing with society codes as capitalism, migration crises, climate change. Each artwork is more spectacular and dramatic than the last. No one is neutral, a message is sent by each of them. They throne in this gloomy atmosphere. The activism is expressed by an adverting way, you are forced to see this reality. Visitors aren’t only viewers, some artworks are interactive, the visit is an even more a total experience. Artworks are highlighted thanks to the special atmosphere compound of music, staff and British grey sky. This exhibition is not a retrospective as many other exhibitions, it’s here a way of seeing our reality, it talks about us, about our society. Dismaland is criticized of being ‘’too easy’’ and sanctimonious. We can raise the question if it’s a good way to sobering the public. Is not too defeatist?

This amusement park abounds of attraction denouncing all the nonsense and mocks our society. Banksy does it the hard way, this amusement park is a kind of defibrillator to wake up the collective consciousness. Dismaland leaves you with more questions about our society than you had to begin with.


Photo credits

Flickr: creative commons