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Friday, 4 September 2015

Weston-Super-Mare: The Pleasures of English Seaside Towns Part 3 of 3

So we come to the last English seaside town; Weston-Super-Mare. This is a town just outside the mouth of the Severn Estuary, an estuary with one of the highest tides in the world. So when the sea goes out, you are faced with a sea of mud (Weston-Super-Mud); it's not the mouth of the Severn so much as the spot just below the Severn where the drool of the river dribbles out into the sea.

But it's kind of beautiful in a run-down sort of way, and that is what attracted Banksy to build his Dismaland there. That and the fact that he used to go there as a kid to face the kinds of disappointments you experience in every English seaside town. But even more so at Weston. It's seaside with extra disappointment, where you take pleasure in the lack of consolations available to alleviate the pain of the rain, the wind and the mud.

For our final English seaside adventure (see Number 1: West Kirby and Number 2: Blackpool here) we bought our tickets for Dismaland. At £5 they were £3.50 cheaper than it cost us to see 12 Canalettos at the Holbourne Museum and almost a full £10 cheaper than seeing a major  show at Tate Modern or the like. So bargain there.

And we started queuing. The queues were massive but once you got in the fun started with the security installation/performance piece. My daughter was cordoned off from the rest of the queue and had to wait 5 minutes till she had 'calmed down' before she was let in.

Once through the door, we saw the ramshackle castle, a shabby range of stalls and a bunch of morose looking helpers. These are performers too and they're great, all dead-eyed and grim, slotting you right into that off-key theme park mode. If you've never been to a theme park before, never taken some kind of pleasure in either their thrills or absurdity, then I guess it's all a bit puzzling. But I loved them.

The best attendants for us were the ones on the fishing stall. Here the idea is you catch a duck from the oily-looking water (complete with oil-slicked pelican) and you win a prize that is beyond crap. Except the sarcastic attendants would move your rod, throw things at the duck, tell you what you're doing wrong and generally look miserable and pissed off. It was great, and recognisably connects to that role playing element of pretending to have fun and then actually having fun that you get in a regular theme park. And the hooks were bigger than the eyes they were supposed to hook into.

There were little installations and deck chairs from which you could watch short films which were sharp and funny (watch Santiago Grasso/Patricia Plaza's El Empleo here and Teddy has an Operation here). Before going, I found that one of the irritating things about Dismaland was the idea that he was making it deliberately bad so that he was covered whichever way it turned out. Good he wins, bad he wins. But it wasn't bad at all and in places it was quite brilliant.

So we watched and as we watched the sun went down, the blue sky darkened and the lights came on and Dismaland became beautiful.

So the park came beautiful, and it became alive, it clicked into that night time funfair vibe. Banksy might pretend that this is all dismal (and the dismal is referring more to how dismal England is as to the dismalness of theme parks), but it looked great lit up and it was meant to

And because it was evening and there was no rain, most everyone was cheerful. The everyone was pretty mixed; this wasn't your usual art crowd, there was little silent chin-stroking going on and there wasn't too much self-consciousness . Dismaland felt like fun and it was fun, especially if you understand what the point of it is. It was enjoyable just to be there, even if it meant standing in a queue  (not in the rain).

So we queued for the castle to see the dead princess and have our picture taken. This is the main event (if you want one) of Dismaland and it's all to do with photography and how we live it. We looked at the crashed carriage, we took pictures of it (the whole site is a massive photo opportunity) and then we had our own picture taken and queued up to buy a copy of us in front of the carriage.

The placing selling the prints was staffed by sarcasm who wouldn't necessarily sell you a print even if you could find it; the computers they had weren't really designed to make it easy to spot your tiny figures in a mass of other tiny-figure peopled pictures. "Don't bother. You want a picture, go outside and come in again," the elbowing crowds were told.

But we got our picture; of us standing in front of a crashed carriage with a dead princess hanging out who was Diana, no matter what they say. Except of course it wasn't Diana, in the same way a camel is not a horse. Very different. We are all rubber-necking voyeurs at the end of the day.

Yes, it's predictable, but the thing is Dismaland has somehow got an audience (and a diverse audience as far as art goes) for his predictability. He's successful! He's accessible! He gets a big audience! He's easy to understand! People like him! How dare he!

In that respect, Banksy is a bit like the Jamie Oliver of the street art world. He's massively influential, people understand him, he's effective, and he's direct and simple, True, Jamie Oliver is a bit annoying at times, he's everywhere, he's far too rich, and he likes having it both ways. Just like Banksy.

But Oliver's heart's in the right place (Oliver has just started a new anti-sugar campaign) , his recipes work and if you try them you're not going to spend three hours wandering round town looking for the right ingredients (sorry Yottam - I never did find those pomegranate molasses and nigella seeds. And I live in Bath!).

And that was that, except for the galleries and the political corner, both of which I enjoyed up to a point, but believe me the gallery is not the best part of Dismaland.

So that is Dismaland; a performance, a participation, a screening, an installation, a photo-opportunity, an art gallery all wrapped up in the conventions of the funfair and the English seaside holiday, Dismaland takes on the disappointments of the English seaside holiday, and makes them entertaining and fun. 

And quite brilliant. 

I wonder if it would be quite the same in the driving rain though.

1 comment:

Brian said...

Brilliant, Colin. Much appreciated as I don't expect to be able to get there. All the best, Brian