Having spent a week trying to get tickets for me and my expectant 13 year old, I was finally successful yesterday morning. The only available tickets were for yesterday at 9pm, so I hastily booked a hotel for the night and to Weston-Super-Mare we duly headed.
Alfie, my son, was expecting a darkly artistic display of anti-establishment installations. I was expecting something worse – possibly a trick, played on the visitors, Banksy having us coerced into some sort voyeuristic, distasteful collusion with Britain First, consumerism or Conservatism. I’d heard about the refugee boats and the dead princess-paparazzi piece and was worried about distaste. I thought the joke would be on us.
I needn’t have, as it turns out, Alfie was right. Everything we experienced was thought-provoking, firmly anti-establishment and even comical in parts. The dead princess-paparazzi thing was mocking our shallow thirst for celebrity culture; the refugee boats at the cliffs of Dover our insular xenophobic nature as a country. Some of what we experienced went over my head, but most was accessible to a 13 year-old’s consciousness. And yes, Disney was slaughtered, literally, with Mickey Mouse having been eaten by a snake and Donald Duck rotting in a bin. The tiny souvenir shop was branded as a means for children to pawn their toys and use the facilities of payday lenders. Much that is wrong with our country was laid bare. The films and the graffiti walls were both entertaining and great tools to promote self-reflection.
The strangest thing of all was the people who worked there. The programme-selling lady looked as though she wanted to kill us, the rides sometimes cost varying amounts of money and other times were free. We were roughly dismissed from exhibitions, castigated for not knowing where things were and constantly being asked to stop smiling, or to go away. At first it was funny, but after 2 hours it became very sinister. On returning to our hotel and being served a glass of wine with a smile, I found myself thanking the lady, telling her how kind she was. It made me reflect on our usual daily interactions with people. Being treated with a lack of courtesy by strangers really is very disconcerting.
This morning I awoke early and found myself pondering the events and feelings provoked by last night. I deliberately hadn’t read any reviews, as I wanted to make up my own mind. It wasn’t a money-spinner, it was all very cheap and I wondered about the motivations. No-one seems to be making any profit from it. So really it was an art exhibition, a means for unknown artists to display their work to the public (there were many contributors). And I am left with the feeling that possibly, just possibly it was a work of intelligent altruism. It was most certainly an effective way of holding up a mirror to for each of us to reflect on the world we live in and our place within that. Go see if you can.