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Features / September 8, 2015

Banksy Takes Maskull Lasserre to Dismaland

Maskull Lasserre is the only Canada-based artist currently showing at Dismaland, Banksy's dark Disneyland parody at the British resort town of Weston-super-Mare.

Maskull Lasserre and Banksy are a match made in hell.

Lasserre is one of two Canadian artists currently showing at Banksy’s Dismaland, the superstar street artist’s dark Disneyland parody, which runs to September 27 at the British resort town of Weston-super-Mare and includes such artists as Damien Hirst, David Shrigley and Jenny Holzer.

The Calgary-born, South Africa–raised and Montreal-based Lasserre is known for his punny, grimly humorous works. Past sculptures include a guillotine that doubles as a stretcher for its victims, and a violin that doubles as a functional rifle. It was perhaps only a matter of time until Bansky came to call.

“I got an email from him in early February saying he liked my work, and asking if I wanted to be involved in this project,” Lasserre says. “Details were scant at that stage; he just talked about a group show in an abandoned theme park.”

Banksy selected five of Lasserre’s works for Dismaland.

Janus is an old wooden carousel horse onto which Lasserre carved anatomical details. “Janus was a Greek god that had two faces,” Lasserre explains, “one looking forward to the future and one looking back to the past.”

Progress Trap II is a folding chair that doubles as a working bear trap, and is named after a phrase from Ronald Wright’s A Short History of Progress describing innovations that generate new problems society is either unable or unwilling to solve.

“It’s based on a standard institutional chair but it’s made from scratch, because none of the materials in a standard chair can withstand the kind of torsion that is exerted on that thing.

“It does work beautifully well, actually,” Lasserre says with a morbid laugh. “It’s such a satisfying thing to set off.”

Outliers is an ongoing performance/installation project for which Lasserre adapts the soles of shoes into urethane paws that make wild-animal prints in urban contexts. Visitors to Dismaland cannot use the shoes, but Banksy wanted the piece to be site-specific, so Lasserre took photos of the shoes being used on the beach surrounding Dismaland.

Banksy specifically requested Grand Narrative, a piece inspired by the time Lasserre spent in the 2010 Canadian Forces Artists Program in Kandahar, Afghanistan. “It’s a hybrid between a classical picture frame and military hardware,” he explains. “The grate over the front was ubiquitous in Afghanistan when I was there, and was used to disperse the warheads aimed at armoured vehicles. It just stuck in my visual vocabulary of how things were made there.”

Beautiful Dreamer A-3 (America the Beautiful), is one of a series of grenades Lasserre has altered so that, when detonated, it plays a music-box song. (In this case, “America the Beautiful.”) At Dismaland the grenade is displayed undetonated, giving it extra menace. “There’s no way to verify [if it will play a song rather than explode] other than to pull the pin. So it’s still armed in that sense.”

Lasserre spent a week installing at Weston-super-Mare. “It’s a bizarre, otherworldly place,” he says of Dismaland, “a serious investment in terms of infrastructure and creating this immersive, subversive environment.

“It was tough to spend as much time in it as I did. Just the soundtrack and the heavy irony, if not sarcasm, can be oppressive a lot of the time. But the strength of it is that when you walk through the rest of Weston-super-Mare, you’re kind of suspect of everything. You don’t look at anything quite the same. You’re used to things not quite being what they appear to be.”

This article was corrected on April 16, 2018, and September 9, 2015. The original article misspelled Banksy in two instances. And the original article indicated that Lasserre was the only Canadian artist at Dismaland; there is another, Joanna Pollonais, although she no longer lives in Canada. Canadian Art regrets the error. 

David Balzer

David Balzer is the author of two books, Curationism: How Curating Took Over the Art World and Everything Else, winner of ICA London's 2015 Book of the Year, and the short-fiction collection Contrivances. He has written about art and culture for the Globe and Mail, the GuardianFrieze, Artforum, The Believer and others, and from 2016 to 2019 was editor-in-chief and co-publisher of Canadian Art.