Two weeks ago, Banksy beamed an image out to his eight million Instagram followers. It quickly did the rounds, being disseminated to the farthest reaches of the internet in the way only a Banksy image can (with the exception, perhaps, of dogs doing yoga). The photo – titled “My wife hates it when I work from home” – depicts nine graffiti rats running amok in the artists’ bathroom: a pertinent, trompe l’oeil masterpiece of dynamism and wit. The rat, Banksy’s trademark symbol, with its long-standing associations with the plague, is a more befitting totem of quarantine art than any other. Of the nine rats that mischievously bound around his bathroom (the perfect indoor setting for them), one etches the days of confinement into the wall; one is about to squirt hand sanitiser from above; another wantonly wastes toilet roll while a fourth, particularly anthropomorphised rat, stands up, urinating on the seat. This tongue-in-cheek, sardonic humour has become synonymous with Banksy to the point where it risks becoming hackneyed, even dull – yet, time and time again, it seems to appear at the right moment, and hit the right mark, surely that is the seal of a great artist?
My wife hates it when I work from home, Photograph, 2020
It’s safe to assume the biggest test of a street artists’ creative clout is to take away the streets, to whip away the brick canvas and shut them up indoors (see our very wn Mr Jago, for example). However, as we are increasingly seeing, extended periods of confinement in which space is limited and the body is restricted, can allow the mind to soar, reaching new creative peaks that are borne from adversity. “My wife hates it when I work from home” has reminded us of what an important artist Banksy is. We hadn’t really forgotten of course, but sometimes a shake up is necessary to appreciate an artists’ past work: armed with what you know and feel today, you are able to revisit works with a new approach, learn new things, and wonder if they had, in fact, been there all along. With this in mind, we’d like to go back to Banksy’s ‘Bemusement Park’ Dismaland, looking for some contemporary meaning in the bleakest of social venues.
Image coutesy of http://dismaland.co.uk/
Dismaland (“The UK’s most disappointing new visitor attraction”) took place in 2015 inside the walls of a derelict seaside lido in Weston-super-Mare. The grounds became home to, among other attractions, a rundown Disney-esque castle; a carousel where the horses were being butchered for their meat; and an upturned pumpkin carriage, out of which climbed Cinderella, as the paparazzi gathered round. Elsewhere, staff were unfriendly and deliberately unhelpful and the whole experience was capped off by a particularly downtrodden stormtrooper, wandering aimlessly around the site. These are examples of Banksy’s signature wit, drawing attention to the unglamorous often absurd shortcomings of contemporary society in a bold and cutting way. Out of the sixty artists that Banksy asked to contribute, fifty-eight said yes – among them were Damien Hirst, Jenny Holzer and David Shrigley (who created the brilliant fair game ‘topple the anvil with the ping-pong ball’). The official statement for Dismaland was as follows:
“Are you looking for an alternative to the soulless sugar-coated banality of the average family day out? Or just somewhere cheaper. Then this is the place for you—a chaotic new world where you can escape from mindless escapism. Instead of a burger stall, we have a museum. In place of a gift shop we have a library, well, we have a gift shop as well.
Bring the whole family to come and enjoy the latest addition to our chronic leisure surplus—a bemusement park. A theme park whose big theme is: theme parks should have bigger themes…
This event contains adult themes, distressing imagery, extended use of strobe lighting, smoke effects and swearing. The following items are strictly prohibited: knives, spray-cans, illegal drugs, and lawyers from the Walt Disney corporation.”
Image courtesy of http://dismaland.co.uk/
Dismaland was open for five weeks, the length of a typical exhibition, it seemed that no sooner were the doors open than everyone was ushered out, exiting through the giftshop… of course. However, the event lives on the collective British consciousness, people remember it happening, remember the queues and the website crashes, it was a cultural event located firmly in the mainstream, it was unpretentious, art for the people. It seems as though Dismaland remains relevant today because, from its stance as a simulacrum of the art world, it posed questions: why is it impossible to purchase some works of art, even if they are within your budget? Why is the art world so cold, inhospitable, unfriendly? Why are the adoption of standard digital practices so anathema to this industry? Five years on, these are issues that are still relevant, and due to Coronavirus we are being granted a chance to address them, both now and when lockdown measures are lifted. If the art world is to change, we’re lucky to have a great artist like Banksy, an unrivalled misery visionary, leading the way.
Image courtesy of http://dismaland.co.uk/