A castle looms in the distance, a majestic white and teal on the park’s legend. The big tops of traditional carnival rides surround the centerpiece, staffed by a myriad of young faces. And at night, these attractions light up in the night sky, offering up a wholly new world. But while the main attractions may bring to mind a certain theme park commercial giant — one anchored by those sights and sporting a pretty famous mouse as its lovable center — the vibe is a little...off.
This alteration is at the heart of Dismaland, a post apocalyptic pop-up theme park in southwest England recently revealed to be the work of famed street artist Banksy. The Disney World riff, located in the Tropicana, a doomed seaside swimming resort that once featured Europe’s largest open-air swimming pool, does have a castle, though it’s falling apart and rotten at its core. And it’s more so populated by crudely dressed staff members (one even in a biohazard suit), a large green pond and a myriad of alternative artwork — both street and installations. Most importantly, that alternative artwork has an Edinboro touch.
The theme park features, according to edinboro.edu, “works by 59 artists from 17 countries, including world-famous sculptors Jenny Holzer, Damien Hirst and Jimmy Cauty, as well as Banksy himself,” and one of our own.
Two sculptures by Edinboro University Associate Professor of Art Dietrich Wegner are featured in Banksy’s Dismaland Bemusement Park.
“Every society accumulates contradictions amidst their deals. Banksy’s Dismaland is a brilliantly curated experience that asks us to shed our rose-colored glasses and take a hard look at ourselves,” Wegner told the university. “He has organized the works of 59 individuals into a singular work that provokes reflection and wonder. It has been an honor to collaborate in Banksy’s vision.”
Banksy reached out to Wegner through email and explained how he enjoyed his art and wanted his work featured at Dismaland on one condition, that Wegner not tell anyone until the show opened. Wegner was flown out to the site nine days before the show and began to work alongside Banksy’s crew and other artists as they installed the pieces.
“Perhaps the most gratifying part of my experience from Banksy’s project is how all of the diverse participants, from social activists, to painters, to sculptors, to street artists, merged their efforts into the greater singular work that is Dismaland,” said Wegner. “It is impressive to stand on the outside, looking at Internet pictures of the works inside, but Dismaland is meant for you to participate in the experience.”
Wegner’s contributions to the Dismaland installation include “Playhouse,” a 16-foot mushroom cloud treehouse and “Cumulous Brand,” a realistic sculpture of a baby tattooed with corporate logos. When asked about the meaning of “Playhouse,” Wegner told the university, “The ephemeral beauty of a mushroom cloud is frightening, how it floats for a minute, delicate and blooming, yet remains chaotic and utterly destructive.
“We experience a contradiction between what our eyes enjoy and what our mind knows,” continued Wegner. “I have combined a child’s playhouse with a symbol of destruction in an effort to articulate the confusion I see between the intentions, outcomes and ideals of our society. We use bombs to preserve our playhouse and I am not sure that is a sustainable course.”
Wegner added, again when talk to the university, “I create images that are safe and unsettling, abject and beautiful. In ‘Cumulous Brand,’ babies are covered in multicolored tattoos. The tattoos are selected through an interview process with an adult prominent in the child’s life, usually the parents. Each work is a portrait through the logos of the products used, the activities participated in and organizations belonged to throughout this adult’s life. ‘Cumulous Brand’ is a meditation on how our identities evolve and how we declare them.”
To many, the exhibition explores themes common to many of the artist’s other projects, including "anti-consumerism and social critiques of celebrity culture, propagandized news, law enforcement and immigration."
Dismaland is just one of Wegner’s latest accomplishments. A full solo exhibition of his work will be presented at the Erie Art Museum from July 27 to Nov. 20, 2016. According to Wegner, the same show will be presented at The Robert Berman Gallery in Los Angeles shortly after the Erie Art Museum exhibit. He added that it was at his “2012 solo show at The Robert Berman Gallery that Banksy originally saw his work for the first time.”
Of Dismaland, Wegner explained, “It will probably end up being the biggest art show of the year, if not the decade. In the first few days the exhibition was open, the Dismaland webpage got over 6 million hits trying to buy tickets.”
Dismaland is open now through Sept. 27. If you're interested in checking out more of Wegner’s art work, visit his website at dietrichwegner.com.
Karlee Dies is the news editor for The Spectator.