modern culture since 1991

Wings Over Sealand

Your hair is beautiful tonight

Posted on September 05, 2015 by RevStu

You know that bit in Superman 2 where Superman is forced by General Zod and his evil Krypton buddies into the magic power-removing chamber, except that Supes has somehow cunningly rewired it so that the space rays or whatever get deflected to everywhere OUTSIDE the chamber instead and they're the ones that lose all their powers while he stays super?


That's basically what's happened in Weston-super-Mare this month.

I'm not one of those awful snobs who sneer at the traditional British seaside resort for being full of ghastly chavs eating chips and ice-creams, largely because I am one of those ghastly chavs eating chips and ice-creams.

I've loved seaside towns ever since I was a little boy, and the fact that they're often a little bit run-down and tattered (as opposed to the antiseptic branded experience of modern "renovations") is part of the appeal.

That's always applied to my nearest one, Weston-super-Mare, but as of yesterday the town seems to have suffered a sudden and precipitous decline, despite actually having a lot of money spent on it recently. (Brand-new pier to replace the one burned down in 2008, a big ferris wheel, fancy seafront housing developments and general prettification of the promenade.)

When a resort turns its beachside toilets into a pay attraction (20p a pop) you know times are tough. Last year the pier started charging for access, but when it costs money to have a pee the local economy is clearly on its uppers.

When the shiny new Grand Pier opened in 2011 I won an iPod Shuffle from a crane machine there for £1, but yesterday the prizes on offer from the largely-deserted arcade that takes up most of the impressive pavilion would have been a rip-off if they'd sold them to you for that price.

(There were some other grim changes in the various amusement machines whose nature would be too arcane to describe here, but which were depressing all the same.)

Even though it was a warm sunny Friday lots of kiosks on both the pier and the prom were boarded up or closed, and what few day-trippers could be seen looked unhappy and morose. Except in one place.

You approach Dismaland through a satirically-overlong maze of metal barriers (enough to contain several times the park's capacity), which in practice is a bit tedious, but on finally getting to the actual queue everyone's excited and in good spirits.


Grumpy stewards and fake security guards (slightly jarringly, there are real ones too, though only enough to comply with Health & Safety law) sullenly directed visitors in, with deadpan warnings against smiling or laughing, only partially successfully.


And then you're in. Dismaland was constructed inside the Tropicana, a former open-air swimming pool that's been closed and increasingly derelict for 15 years. The space isn't particularly vast, then, but a lot's been packed in.


Lots of critics and other curmudgeons have been quick to pour tiresome scorn on the enterprise, with Banksy apparently having fallen out of fashion with the art cognoscenti these days now that he's made some money and whatnot. But in fact more than 50 different artists are showcased in what I suppose we must call the "installation", so a dislike of the anonymous graffitist is a poor excuse to rubbish the entire show. While you could walk round the whole thing in five minutes tops, even a brief look at everything will easily occupy a couple of hours.

(For my money the finest attraction by a comfortable distance is one not made by Banksy but former KLF frontman Jimmy Cauty, but we'll get to that later.)

If you get a 7pm-entry ticket (there are also 11am and 3pm ones, all at the same modest £3) you get to enjoy the transition from day to night. In daylight its shabby setting is fully exposed.








But something lurks in just about every nook and cranny.





And then there are the actual attractions, rides and game booths:








The gloomy freakshow tent offers all manner of grotesqueries:




But the main treasures are found in the gallery.


The gallery comes in three main sections – a dark area with LED roadsigns flashing up various slogans, which also features a show every 15 minutes from a figure of Death riding around on a dodgem car to the pounding strains of "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees, and assorted other exhibits.



Then you're into the main gallery part, with lots of paintings, sculptures and things that are harder to categorise, like a beach-ball kept aloft by a fan over a bed of knives or an atomic mushroom-cloud treehouse made out of cotton wool.











But then comes what for this reporter was the high point. I've been a sucker for a model village my whole life, but Jimmy Cauty's take on the trope, set in another darkened section of the gallery, is a sight to behold.





The scale and detail of Cauty's model post-riot city are both breathtaking. Personally I'd have happily paid the entrance fee for that alone.







By the time I got out of the gallery night had fallen, and I walked straight into a crowd of people bouncing up and down and filming all round the bar next to the gallery exit, which turned out to be because Fat Boy Slim was playing an unbilled DJ set there.



It was appropriate because by night Dismaland takes on more of the atmosphere of a festival, all darkness and music and neon lights and young people in party mood. The youth-fiction author David Levithan famously said "Sometimes things look better in the dark", and in few places can that be truer than at Dismaland.







The atmosphere was electric after sundown, which may or may not (I suspect may) have been down to the imminence of a set from Run The Jewels on the main stage. It's unfair to go on about how gob-smackingly incredible it was, because it was a one-off (although Friday nights are special gig nights, and acts including Sleaford Mods and Massive Attack are still to come), but holy cow, it was gob-smackingly incredible.

They were the perfect band for the ambience and it was the perfect setting for their apocalyptic, bowel-shaking hip-hop, giving the whole place a vibe of Mad Max or the video for "Atomic" by Blondie. You probably need to go and see them just about as soon as you possibly can.

And then there were fireworks, but this time off the stage.





This article hasn't touched on whole sections of the park. It's said nothing about the Pocket Money Loans kiosk or the Museum Of Cruel Objects (which weirdly had the longest queue to get in, but still only about 10 minutes), or the library or the cinema or Julie Burchill's Punch and Judy show, mainly because I didn't see it. There's just too much to catch everything in one visit, even though I was there four hours.

It hasn't mentioned the "living art" performances from the staff, which varied from hammy pouting to brilliantly engaged madness, like the girl at the riot village who kept refusing to let people photograph one particular corner for no obvious reason.

It hasn't even got any of the videos that I took because some things don't work well in stills. (Like the centrepiece "Cinderella's Castle" feature. Better do that one at least.)

Everyone I met or spoke to at Dismaland was having an absolute whale of a time. I didn't encounter anyone who wasn't completely loving it. Ostensibly a place of neglect and misery, it in fact, just like the crystal chamber inside Superman's Fortress Of Solitude, contained all the detectable joy to be found anywhere in Weston-super-Mare, which sat around it in a glowering sulk.

I met people who'd come all the way from Scotland just to be there, and who weren't disappointed. If I can get hold of another ticket (and maximum love out to Southern Uplander for this one) I'll be back like a shot. I've never loved art this much in my life, and I doubt I ever will again. If you have the chance to go and you turn it down, you really are an imbecile.


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4 to “Your hair is beautiful tonight”

  1. mogabee says:

    I know for sure that I won't be able to visit, so this piece is fanbloodytastic!


    Thanks a million Stu. :D

  2. Grouse Beater says:

    Irony artists.

  3. Taranaich says:

    I get the appeal of the place, I really do: there is something about the familiarity of decay and detritus that makes such a place appealing. But for me, it's just too raw and real, to reminiscent of my childhood. The Gourock train station, Gingerbread, the Gantock, the Hector McNeil Baths, the old playparks… It's just too much.

    It is nice, though, that people can have a good time with it. I just think I'd be too philosophical and moody to enjoy it. Ironic, given how much I love post-apocalyptic fiction!

  4. Bravemany says:

    I won't beable to get down and see it so this article is probably as close as i'll get. Thankyou so much for sharing it Wings'

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