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Inside Banksy's biggest project yet: Welcome to Dismaland

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Perhaps against my better judgement, I’ve always been a big Disney fan. Yes I know he was an anti-Semitic slave labourer and I’ve heard things about staff working conditions that have made my bones crease, but I personally hold nothing but wonderful memories regarding my trips to Disneyland and World as a child. I am, however, reticent to return as an adult, as I’m aware the façade might have shifted somewhat in the past decade. So where once stood a beacon of wholesome entertainment would now stand (in my mind’s eye at least) something akin to the distorted nightmare to be inflicted upon the denizens of Weston-Super-Mare (near Bristol) this weekend by the Bristolian graffiti wunderkind Banksy.

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Cynicism can be a dangerous thing, but it can also be quite freeing, and from the reports, it seems the still defiantly mysterious (expect presumably to his mother) artist has taken cynicism to a whole new level with the aptly titled “Dismaland,” otherwise known as the unhappiest place on earth. The make-shift theme park/wilfully ambitious art installation takes place on the site of the abandoned “Tropicana” water park (made all the more sombre for me personally as it’s a water park I used to frequent as a nipper) is being sold to the public as “A festival of art, amusements and entry-level anarchism,” which includes not only attractions from Banksy, but around 60 other international artists including Damien Hirst, Jimmy Cauty, Julie Burchill and Jenny Holzer. The man himself, for whom this is his first public show since 2009, will be showing off 10 new works at the site.

Dismaland is a make-shift theme park/wilfully ambitious art installation by Banksy, which is open from now until the end of September in Weston-Super-Mare near Bristol

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Rumours have been swirling about the seaside town for weeks now, with the exhibition being covered by a Hollywood-style film set as it was being built to waylay suspicions. It was finally officially unveiled yesterday, however, when the press were allowed in and were greeted with noticeably sombre stewards decked out in ironic pink, who took them through some of the attractions. These include a massive Big Rig truck bent into a jug shape by artist Mike Ross, a dilapidated Ferris Wheel (though I’m pretty sure it’s still safe), a “Caravan Simulator” which is effectively Blackpool Pleasure Beach’s famous “Haunted Swing” as directed by Mike Leigh, and the centrepiece; a warped reimagining of Disneyland’s iconic Cinderella Castle.

The grand opening of the park today is open only to locals, but it will be open to the general public from tomorrow (August 22) The site will also host performances from local musical legends Massive Attack, as well as the anarchic punk band Pussy Riot, US hip-hop act Run The Jewels and DJ Yoda, amongst others. Everyone is welcome of course (though it’s implicitly stated that this is not fun for all the family), except for Disney representatives, who we’ve been told in no uncertain terms will be turned away at the gate.

The grand opening of the park is only for locals, but it will be open to everyone else tomorrow

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Even as someone with a soft spot for Disney, I absolutely love the concept. Banksy himself hit the nail on the head, stating that he feels “Theme parks should have bigger themes,” and the levels of audience participation expected to take place will hopefully keep it feeling more like a fun day out with a twist, than a grim slog through a dystopian wasteland. I can’t wait to drag my girlfriend down to Weston at some point in the next few weeks to experience the macabre magic for myself (it’ll remain open until September 27). I just hope they serve booze, as I’m not quite sure I’d be able to face it otherwise.

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Benjamin Hiorns is a freelance writer and struggling musician from Kidderminster in the UK.

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