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Today, it was officially announced that British artist Banksy has constructed a dystopian riff on Disneyland in a derelict seaside resort in Weston-super-Mare, England. Called Dismaland, the ambitious five-week project is sure to attract visitors eager for the artist’s brand of viral culture jamming and populist humor, but there’s a twist. Most of the art on display at Dismaland is not by Banksy — though he has contributed 10 new works — but by 58 artists invited to participate, including blue-chip names Damien Hirst, Jenny Holzer, and David Shrigley, and popular artists associated with street art like Espo, Escif, Bäst, and El Teneen. The scale of the project is impressive.
An abandoned Cinderella Castle has been constructed at the heart of the fairgrounds, while a glitchy Little Mermaid sits on a rock in the middle of a putrid green pool. In one end of the pond there is an armored police van fountain, while further afield works that are equal parts funny, topical, and dark offer their own takes on contemporary life. One sculpture of a woman on a bench being overtaken by a flock of pigeons looks like a lost scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, while on a nearby merry-go-round a butcher wielding a machete sits on boxes labeled “lasagne” as a plastic horse hangs close by like it would in a meat locker.
There is material from news headlines around the world in this not-quite-for-kids wonderland. References to boat migrants, the police state, and environmental issues are all included in this pop culture molotov cocktail.
Christopher Jobson of Colossal (a sister site to Hyperallergic) attended the special opening today, and he is enthusiastic about the project. “My first impression is that it’s incredible, unlike anything I’ve seen before,” he told Hyperallergic. “It’s an art exhibition, a theme park complete with games, rides, prizes wrapped up in this constantly present feeling of doom and gloom as portrayed by the dozens of actors milling around. It’s looking at what the purpose of an art exhibition is (or a theme park for that matter) and completely reinventing it. Everyone is going to want to see this.”
Jobson has also curated a video program of 24 short works to be screened on a loop day and night in a large outdoor cinema. Artists in his film program include Santiago Grasso and Patricio Plaza, Kirsten Lepore, The Mercadantes, Ze Frank, Adrien M. and Claire B., Fernando Livschitz’s Black Sheep Films, and Becky Sloan and Joseph Pelling’s viral series Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared.
“What’s so exciting about this show is the variety of voices,” Jobson said. “Of course Banksy has a few pieces on view that will receive a lot of attention — and deservedly so — but for Dismaland he wanted to create an environment where lots of other artworks in several different mediums could be shown across three gallery spaces. He’s using the international focus on his work to get people here, and then showing them an entirely unexpected world of art. I wanted to do that with the films as well, a good mix of humor, satire, animation, stop-motion, some with narrative, and some completely out in left field. They were immediately receptive of the idea, and we went from there, seeing what would work.”
The Banksy spectacle will include a September 25 concert with Pussy Riot and Massive Attack, a comedy night on September 11, and late-night DJ sets every Saturday. “The greatest challenge is that there’s a lot trying to take your attention here, and it takes a bit to get acclimated,” Jobson said. “I walked through it three times under various circumstances and when I got back to my hotel room was seeing things in other people’s photos that I totally missed. The key is to just enjoy it. It’s hilarious. There’s some really heady artwork and messages being shared, and there’s fun stuff too. It’s as accessible as you need it to be.”
Like anything Banksy does, there are sure to be galvanizing elements of the work and unexpected consequences. This isn’t the first immersive project created by the artist — his previous environments included a “pet shop” in Manhattan and a Los Angeles warehouse show, among others — but Dismaland is undoubtedly the largest.
Banksy’s Dismaland is on view in Weston-super-Mar (North Sommerset, England) through September 27.