The thing that shocks me is the sudden realisation I have not been shocked and surprised for so long. This is sudden sensory bombardment and I can’t cope so do what everyone else is doing- take out my phone to take bad photos of it instead.
From a bright white entrance airport style cubicle where my child and I are not smiled at and told to walk separately, we enter the vast concrete expanse of Dismaland. Cracked tiles and broken shopping trolleys, bins artfully already overflowing.
A gargantuan installation of a dancing truck pirouettes against the gloom of a grim August sky. The tannoy crackles with bursts of sinister noise, disembodied cold speech and slowed down fairground music. I am stupidly excited.
A rusty Ferris wheel stands in the centre, seats blowing emptily in the breeze. I have been yearning to go on this Ferris wheel since I saw it being constructed in a few days from across the cold grey walls surrounding the former Tropicana pool.
We get on. A man in mickey mouse ears looks grimly at me as I nervously clamber on, pulled by my excited four year old. ‘Be careful’, he states dispassionately to my child. ‘I would hold on to her tight if I were you.’
We start to elevate. I start to notice the rust. We go higher and faster, rocking in the wind and I am annoyed by the prospect of dying before seeing the rest of Dismaland yet slightly impressed by the manner and glamour of my imminent death.
I never thought I would say that about Weston Super Mare.
Things are not helped by the fact a camera man is recording my terror and my child’s glee every time we swoosh around the bottom of the wheel. Everything is being recorded here.
Leaving alive, we stagger over the cracked tiles and a man lurches up at me shouting, ‘it’s not right, it’s not right, they’ve not even cleaned this place up’, and points angrily at an artfully placed broken child’s scooter in a pile of mirk. I beam at him presuming he is part of the event but notice the ‘local’ wristband on his arm as this is the day 1000 locals have been allowed access with a coupon from the local paper.
This is the confusing bit for me. I appreciate the detail with the unhelpful glum attendants (and they are delightfully glum) but you get sucked in, I presume deliberately, into a topsy- turvy world of what is real and what is not. I ask for directions to the toilet, they are barked at me, I smile and simper the ruder people are to me, become politer and more English like some weird Stockholm Syndrome victim. My child is so excited when I nearly reach a duck in the Hook a Duck and beams at the stall attendant who glares at him and throws the nearly caught duck away into an oily mire. I strangely appreciate the casual cruelty so far from the pasted on smiles and bored eyes of most theme parks.
I walk into a tent and try to work out what spectacular Look at Me! multi-media installation to look at first. Another grim faced woman in mickey mouse ears comes up to me and asks me to leave through the entrance.
I have cottoned on to this deliberate confusion and cruelty!
I smile and continue to feast my eyes and take bad photographs. Then two grim faced women in mickey mouse ears come up to me and ask me to leave through the entrance. They really really mean it this time. One of them angrily points to my cider.
I leave through the entrance.
The grey broken spire of a Disneyesque castle has been greatly appealing to my child so we enter into the pitch black to see in stuttering strobe lights a dead princess hanging out of a pumpkin carriage being photoed by creepily real paparazzi models. The child worryingly declares this wonderful and wants to go in again. He is also under the impression this is actually Disneyland but is perfectly happy. This might possibly affect him in later life.
What I thought would be a novelty few hours is in fact an eyeball bleeding onslaught of magnificence- every tattered billboard is artfully designed to execute a statement of political intent, fairground attractions are cruelly witty- we win a fish finger in a plastic bag and my child tries to crash into a boatful of refugees with every anguished desperate face vividly executed.
Banksy has stated that the Tropicana meant a lot to him as a kid and the media attention and subsequent cash from Dismaland and all its attendant artists hopefully means that it will be restored to its former glory. There is well meaning anarchy at work here in every broken stone, a finger up at the system in every tattered poster, in every artful splatter of random graffiti. Some might say the messages are obvious but if the media can convey simplistic messages and agendas every day to appeal to suit their viewpoint and agenda then why can’t Art for once give a sudden differently skewed perspective to those who don’t generally frequent art galleries?
And the artwork itself is truly unique- loud, flamboyant, angry, kitsch- the embodiment of crumbling seaside towns desperate to keep the neon lights still flickering. A model town featuring the aftermath of a riot in mesmerizingly intricate detail, paintings of urban dereliction with uncanny observation and cruel twists. I walk around mesmerised, can’t trust my eyes, take bad photos.
My phone camera memory dies under the onslaught and the next day in a local paper I see a photo of me in the background of a room of art, my head bent low, desperately trying to delete photos so I could take more but not looking at the art itself- a parody of a parody.