Dismaland – an Educational Perspective

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September 21, 2015 by dragonflytraining

By Peter Dawes, @P_Dawes

For the last 15 years I’ve lived in North Somerset a stone’s throw from Weston-super-Mare. A cultural epicentre it is not. Known mainly – some would say only – for its association with former MP and top author Jeffrey Archer and comedian John Cleese, Weston’s sudden reinvention with the arrival of Banksy’s Dismaland has been genuinely astounding.

It has sparked international interest – Brad Pitt has apparently visited, and at the other end of the celebrity scale, German teachers may be interested in the newspaper article at the end, wherein I was interviewed for my thoughts, via an enjoyably stressful phone conversation with the editor in German!

But hype and froth aside, the exhibition itself offers some fascinating raw material for educational visits, and not just for the art department either. The experience very much starts immediately with the queuing: fully in keeping with the ambiance of the place is the ink stamp across the wrist, rather than back of hand or a normal ticket, which already suggests an internment camp.

Dismaland 2015

Offhand and plain surly staff strengthen the anti-Disney vibe. The first impression you get as you walk in is staggering – as a country used to immaculate National Trust country estates or gaudy theme parks for our days out, nothing prepares you for the sheer drabness and lack of effort put into the scene before you. Listen to Morrissey’s “Every day is like Sunday” and now see the physical manifestation.

If it’s balance you want, go somewhere else. This is anti-capitalism writ large (Cameron, the military, police, commercialisation, etc, all take a bashing), but with a very winning sense of jet-black British humour. The kids’ section offers pocket-money loans at astronomical lending rates and an action man with PTSD.  A group of misshapen lumps of brightly coloured plastic, claiming to have individual personalities, urge you to buy them. I’m sure I’m not the only parent who moved on quickly and guiltily at that point.

For art and media students, the absolute must is a series of video shorts from around the world, played on loop on a giant outdoor screen. Some are political, but most are simply a delight and often oddly touching. Stay long enough to see the giraffes and message in a bottle!

The main art exhibition area is indoors and contains plenty of interest for students of history, politics, sociology and current affairs. One darkened room is particularly worth pausing in, offering a screen with a series of enigmatic statements and aphorisms – I rather liked “No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted”. (Although the geeky pedant in me would have appreciated some attributions – likewise, I’m convinced Dismalland should have got the nod….) The exhibits cover a broad range – one of the lamest was Damien Hirst’s offering – but creeping commercialism was a popular theme, foetus with a Coca-Cola logo/tattoo being a highlight. See also image below.

Peter Dawes CPD

So all in all, about as uplifting as a Lana del Rey album? (Enough music references already. Editor) Curiously no. At no point did any of this feel preachy or depressing. Mostly it induced a sly smile as a reaction, and my enduring feeling is one of admiration. That such a squalid and neglected setting could offer a transformative experience and actually send me away with a spring in my step.

Paper for Dismaland

Peter Dawes is one of Dragonfly’s senior trainers and has delivered courses to thousands of teachers over the years. To find out more about Peter, or to find out more about his courses, please click here: http://www.dragonfly-training.co.uk/courses-conduct-by-peter-dawes/17

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