I went to see Banksy’s Dismaland the other day and came away with mixed feelings. It was an absolutely fantastic, thought-provoking, amusing, disturbing and wry installation – and hugely entertaining too. But every image and exhibit spoke volumes in an instant. So succinct and pointed were the concepts, that the vagaries of climate change, species extinction, animal exploitation and human impact were conveyed in one display: of an orca leaping out of a toilet through a hoop held by a human in a wetsuit, into a paddling pool of filthy water and floating plastic pollution. Do we need books and even journalism anymore, I thought, when such pictures speak 1,000 words?
But of course we do, because we have a human need to speak and write about what we see, just as I’m doing now; to discuss and analyse and disagree over the meaning (which I’m sure is different for every viewer) of each piece. Some of it is incontrovertible, such as the PocketMoneyLoans cabin, where children could get ‘Rent to Buy’ Gobstoppers, or even purchase their own bouncy castle (buy now, pay for the rest of your life – only 5000% APR). There couldn’t be a more pertinent comment on the state of our economy, even if it were written by Greenspan or Stiglitz.
But Banksy – as always – has made me think. As technology impacts our world in so many ways, not least leaving less time and inclination to indulge in the complexities of a novel or the intricacies of a well-honed article, are modern artists supplanting us writers? Is Banksy the new Byron? Is Hurst the new Self? I console myself that we will always need books; that in the beginning there was the Word, and so it shall continue to be – but these original thinkers – the street artists and activists – are evolving and deconstructing the arts at such a breathtaking pace that what were once the ivory towers of publishing, journalism and art galleries are crumbling as we speak.