Visual Arts

Destination: Disappointment, by Banksy

Chris Jones
Photos: Simon Chapman (London News Pictures/ Zuma Press/ TNS)
Chicago Tribune (TNS)

It is, you might say, a very short line from Great Yarmouth to Banksy’s “Dismaland". Or is it?

GREAT YARMOUTH, England — To pass a day at a cloudy British seaside resort in the waning days of summer is to embrace melancholy. The resorts themselves — conceived as great Victorian towns of pleasure and repose — have yet to recover from a period of decline that began in the 1970s when cheap European charter flights stole their clientele. Their demise only picked up steam when Walt Disney World in Florida started beckoning the long haul-willing British with the promise of sunny skies, meticulous flower beds and a level of themed customer service that one surely does not find at the roast-beef eateries here on Marine Parade, where a chatty waitress who hears an American accent unleashes her unrequited Florida dreams even as she brings a cheap plate of roast beef, veg and gravy.

As recently as the early 1980s, the Britannia Pier Theatre here offered summerlong variety shows with famous TV comedians — two houses a night, one at 6:10 p.m. for the families, one at 8:40 p.m. when the material could turn blue with relative impunity. Now the shows are concert-style one-offs or short weekend runs. In the 1950s, the Yarmouth seafront was overrun by parka-clad Mods in sharp Italian suits. You still can find vintage American automobiles on the sea front, but the crowds are sparse and many of the former Mods now rock along only with difficulty.

It is, you might say, a very short line from Great Yarmouth to Banksy’s “Dismaland.” Or is it?

“Dismaland” is the name of a dystopian piece of secretive conceptual art from the ne plus ultra of secretive conceptual artists that has captured the British attention and imagination these dog days of August.

It has been erected in another of the great, creaking British resorts, Weston-super-Mare. On the site of an abandoned lido called the Tropicana — a resonant site that came with the added asset of walls to hide the extensive preparations — artist Banksy and his high-profile collaborators (such as Damien Hirst and the American anti-Disney nihilist Jeff Gillette) have built what the mysterious one is calling a “bemusement park,” a series of arch sculptures and installations that, taken collectively, are a satirical jab at Disneyfied ways to pass the time and at the hypocrisy of vacationing in idealized escapism when the world is a chamber of horrors.

Overseen by miserable, mouse-eared staffers, the attractions at Dismaland include a “pocket money loans” shop (APR 5,000 percent); a vista of mermaid Ariel swimming in radioactive seas; remote-controlled model boats over-filled with refugees in the shadow of the White Cliffs of Dover; a model town depicting the moment after an urban riot when only cops are on the streets; a miniature golf course themed around a war for oil; a Punch-and-Judy show that emphasizes domestic violence, underscoring the sexism of traditional seaside entertainment built around a violent puppet with a stick.

A commercial produced for the site features a kid falling asleep in the family car on the way home, only to wake up screaming. Maybe he bought one of the balloons that reads “I Am an Imbecile.” Maybe he entered the competition offering “a free hotdog for anyone who can tell what animal is in their hotdog.” Maybe he saw the huge sculpted whale doing tricks in the tiny, empty, kiddie pool. Perhaps he has been to the Banksy version of Cinderella’s Castle, where a fairy-tale princess has been ripped into pieces by the paparazzi.

“Dismaland,” which is open for about the next month, has been covered exhaustively in the British media; many of the reports have been accompanied by the disclaimer that the contents therein will be distressing for those of a sensitive disposition. Most of those British reports have mirrored the arch tone of the artistic event they are covering. CNN, though, sent the comically perky Robyn Kriel, whose ebullient and energized Orlando-like walk-through played into everything Banksy surely wanted. Of course, the man himself has been as elusive as Goofy at Epcot. Part of the brand.

Banksy has an innate appreciation of the market value of irony. “Dismaland” is billed as “the UK’s most disappointing visitor attraction,” thus guaranteeing that it will be anything but. When it comes to the attractions of the British seaside at least, when you actually know you are disappointing, you no longer are really disappointing.

Not in the way Great Yarmouth is disappointing, anyway. But Great Yarmouth, at least, is still trying to please, without the aura of secrecy or the protections of celebrity. You will find more one-percenters at “Dismaland” than walking down a real pier with plenty of real-life decay to ponder.

In Great Yarmouth, you can walk for free through the Pleasure Beach (where there is one of the only roller coasters left in the world that features a manual brakeman on every car), and still ride your fancy for a couple of bucks. I did. Tickets to Dismaland — in the unlikely event that you could actually procure them — are reportedly going for nearly $1,000 a pair online. I didn’t get any.

The face value is minimal, but Banksy did not get to be Banksy without an innate understanding of the role of scarcity in contemporary art. Above all else, that is what creates value — Banksy has added surprise into that equation and he gets the value of personal scarcity better than any of his peers. Few in the world can command such attention through absence.

Is “Dismaland” really the saddest place on Earth? For most of the urban dwellers on the hipster’s summer pilgrimage, that surely will not be the case. It is a must-do; nothing in Yarmouth is must-do. Some of it, though, is at least a better-to-do than you’ll find in towns built only on work and far from the sea.

Dismaland, for all its satirical brilliance, is making one fundamental point: We compartmentalize, especially when we’re clinging to the last moments of our summer. We choose to cast our eyes away from that which disturbs us. So sue us.

It’s not even true.

For a day in Great Yarmouth — where a night can still end with a few fireworks, an ice cream and a trip to an arcade — suggests that maybe Banksy sees too binary a world. Maybe we’re always somewhat sad on vacation — holidays, like summers, always seem close to being over. Resorts — real ones, not pop-up enterprises — always seem not what they were, back when we were younger, or when we were holding the hand of one no longer along for the ride.

You don’t need to visit Dismaland or pay those prices. Melancholy is never that far away, when by the sea, with summer running away so fast.

Back-to-school always is coming soon. Who would have it any other way?

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.

20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta

Keep reading... Show less

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

Keep reading... Show less

Mary Poppins, Mrs. Gamp, Egyptian deities, a Japanese umbrella spirit, and a supporting cast of hundreds of brollies fill Marion Rankine's lively history.

"What can go up a chimney down but can't go down a chimney up?" Marion Rankine begins her wide-ranging survey of the umbrella and its significance with this riddle. It nicely establishes her theme: just as umbrellas undergo, in the everyday use of them, a transformation, so too looking at this familiar, even forgettable object from multiple perspectives transforms our view of it.

Keep reading... Show less

Those who regard the reclusive Argerich as one of the world's two or three greatest living pianists—classical or otherwise—would not have left the concert hall disillusioned.

In a staid city like Washington, D.C., too many concert programs still stick to the basics. An endless litany of Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky concerti clog the schedules and parades of overeager virtuosi seem unwilling to vary their repertoire for blasé D.C. concertgoers. But occasionally you encounter a concert that refreshes your perspective of the familiar. The works presented at The Kennedy Center on 25 October 2017 might be stalwarts of 20th century repertoire, but guest conductor Antonio Pappano, leading the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, reminded us how galvanizing the canonical can still be. Though grandiose executions of Respighi's The Fountains of Rome and The Pines of Rome were the main event, the sold-out crowd gathered to see Martha Argerich perform one of her showpieces, Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto. Those who regard the reclusive Argerich as one of the world's two or three greatest living pianists—classical or otherwise—would not have left the concert hall disillusioned.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.