Dismaland – An Art Review

Police Riot Van (Dismaland Gift Print) by BanksyPolice Riot Van (Dismaland Gift Print) © Banksy 2015
Joe Syer

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“Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it” – Bertolt Brecht, cited in Banksy’s opening essay for the catalogue to Dismaland. Now the dust has settled, we look back more closely at the art at Dismaland.

Work by more than 50 artists from 17 countries was on show. They ‘all toil under the darkening clouds’ and shared a common concern for the fragility of the environment, fleeting between ominous foreboding and a sense of joy in the moment.

Bansky himself – as well as acting as producer and curator – made a huge amount of new work for the show – mostly large pop-art style installations, including the central apocalyptic fountain, the distorted Little Mermaid sculpture, the Fairy Castle with paparazzi, the woman attacked by seagulls (pictured), killer whale jumping out of the toilet, and the grim reaper who performed a disco/waltz in a dodgem car. We wonder where these works are now and what will become of them? Would they have any meaning in an art gallery?

I see it as an absurd, little teeny pocket of fantasy, and then the rest of the world is a different story and what I do is I try to find the absolute opposite of the happiest place on earth.
Jeff Gillette

Alongside Bansky, here’s a pick of some of the artists we most remember from our trip:

Dietrich Wegner – this Australian produced the unsettling ‘baby in a vending machine’ – a hyperrealistic model of a baby hanging in a real vending machine as if you could drop in a few coins and it buy it. Shown in the dark first gallery, it was uncanny and fascinating in turn.

Severija Incirauskaite – Kriauneviciene – a Lithuanian artist who embroidered folk art daisies onto car doors – a weird melding of the old and new worlds.

Jimmy Cauty – no one could miss the power of this extraordinary installation by Jimmy Cauty – formerly one half of the acid house duo The KLF. A huge dystopian model village – entitled the Aftermath Dislocation Principle Part I – it contained some 3000 miniature riot police attending the aftermath of some terrible urban revolt. Tiny emergency lights flashed on and off, police appeared like ants in tight formations hunting for wrongdoers. The work has been shown already in London and abroad, but Cauty had updated it for Dismaland. The piece chimed exactly with Banky’s sentiments about state controls and personal freedoms.

Speaking of which… Banksy invited three artists from Israel and three from Palestine, but one Palestinian artist, Shadi Alzaqzouq, took offence to the presence of his Israeli contemporaries and staged a protest, covering his work with a sheet on which he had written “RIP Gaza: Boycott Israel” in charcoal. He then lay down for a “die-in” in front of it. Bansky allowed his sheet-covered art to stay – generating an artistic dialogue between his invited artists from the Middle East.

Alongside Alzaqzouq, there was work by Israeli Neta Harari Navon – paintings based on press photographs of the evacuation of an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. Palestinian artist Sami Musa has sent two pieces from his recent “Chic-art resistance” show, where instruments and detritus of war is repurposed in unexpected – even charming – ways. Amir Schiby, another Israeli artist showed a painfully poignant upside-down image of four young boys playing on a Gaza beach. Their young lives about to be cut short.

We understand that these works are now back with the artists, but wonder if Bansky will flex his curatorial muscles again any time soon. We hope he does.