Sandy Butt, an art lover and retired estate agent, was trying to peer into the Tropicana, a derelict lido in Weston-super-Mare.
“I heard the rumours and hopped on the bus straight away,” she said. “I love Banksy. I was one of the first in the queue for his big exhibition in Bristol. He’s so interesting. I like anyone who tries to kick against authority. And he’s got a great sense of humour.”
Butt really is ahead of the game this time. There isn’t a queue or even a show here yet on the Somerset coast. Just rumours, hearsay, the sound of hammering and sawing from the old lido – and some intriguing installations starting to poke above the high stone walls.
The whisper is that Banksy is involved in the staging of some sort of pop-up show/exhibition/thing called Dismaland – apparently a swipe at Disneyland.
Banksy and his people are saying nothing. But a structure somewhat resembling Disney’s fairy castle can be seen by the picnickers on Weston’s sands – though it looks just a little bit more sinister, even as if it may have sustained some sort of fire damage.
Not far from it, a giant version of a seaside windmill – the sort that has delighted young visitors to bucket-and-spade resorts like this for generations – looms large. “I want one of them,” one young promenader told her mum.
Andrea Waterson and her friend Michelle Galliott had been planning to visit Weston anyway, tempted by an optimistic weather forecast. But they had ventured far from the pier and chip shops, lured by the Banksy whispers. “We wouldn’t normally have come to this part of the seafront,” said Waterson. “But we’d heard this was here and decided to have a look.”
Waterson attended Castle School up the M5 in Thornbury – which is rumoured (so many rumours) to be the artist’s old school. “He feels like one of ours,” said Waterson. She was drawn by a piece that from a distance looked a little like a giant Mickey Mouse. On closer inspection it turned out to – apparently – be a sculpture of a lorry and metal tubing resting at a crazy angle. The “ears” are the lorry’s tyres.
More straightforwardly, Waterson’s daughter, Abby, liked the look of a gleaming metal sculpture of a prancing horse. “I’d like to ride it,” she said.
Word is that whatever lies within the lido walls will be revealed later this week. Try to get closer to Dismaland – if that indeed it is what is is – at the moment and you are rebuffed. No-nonsense security guards asked the Guardian to retreat from the wire fence that separates the work’s entrance to the lido and the beach. Asked why we could not stand on the beach, one security guard replied: “Because I said so.” A second said pictures could be taken but only from 40ft away from the walls.
There has been a huge element of cloak and dagger around the project. An apparent piece of misinformation that has been put around locally is that a crime thriller called Grey Fox is being filmed here. But there is no sign of film crew, cameras or runners.
Speculation about what was afoot first surfaced after a woman, believed to be a member of Banksy’s support team, was apparently spotted at the site. Financial records have also revealed that a company called Dismaland Ltd has been set up by people believed to have links to Banksy.
In the coming days all will be revealed – or at least as much as Banksy and his people choose to show. But it will be good news for Weston. The Bristol show that Butt queued for attracted more than 300,000 visitors over 12 weeks and was estimated to have generated £10m for the local economy.
Joe Bright, 78, said he was just pleased that life is being breathed into the Tropicana, which has lain empty since the turn of the century. “It’s great that something is being done.” Will he be taking a look at the Banksy show if the rumours turn out to be true? “Are pensioners allowed into things like that? I may do. I think I prefer a good-old fashioned painting by Constable or Turner though, to be honest.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010