Meet Montreal artist Maskull Lasserre. He's going to Dismaland!

Banksy's imagineers include inventive Canadian sculptor




Tourists walk past the entrance to 'Dismaland', a theme park-styled art installation by British artist Banksy, at Weston-Super-Mare in southwest England, Britain, August 20, 2015. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

How do you become a part of Dismaland? Banksy sends you an e-mail.

That's what happened for Montreal's Maskull Lasserre, an inventive sculptor who transforms everyday objects into items that are unsettling, beautiful – and almost always winkingly funny.

Earlier this year, Lasserre was recruited as one of the "imagineers" for Dismaland, Banksy's dystopian theme-park/art expo. Five of Lasserre's pieces appear in the project, which caused a sensation when it was unveiled Thursday.

"I was just invited, sort of out of the blue," Lasserre says, recalling how it all started. Banksy "was interested in my work, and we began a conversation from there."

That was in February. Monday, Lasserre arrived in Weston-super-Mare. It's a small resort town about an hour from Bristol, the rumoured hometown of Dismaland's notoriously anonymous creator. In decline since the '70s, Banksy reportedly played there as a child, but its long-abandoned amusement park has since been transformed. Lasserre, along with more than 50 international artists, and a Banksy-led crew, began assembling Dismaland this week. It's a place as magically bleak as its title implies.


A sculpture is seen at 'Dismaland', a theme park-styled art installation by British artist Banksy, at Weston-Super-Mare in southwest England, Britain, August 20, 2015. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

Saturday, following a "locals only" day, Dismaland opens to the general public. Previews reveal a bombed out Cinderella's castle, where you'll find a Banksy sculpture of the princess, her pumpkin-carriage overturned, beset by paparazzi. There's a 50 Shades of Grey-inspired Punch and Judy show; remote-control refugee boats; carnival games where a stale fish-finger, not a goldfish, is the prize. For roughly $10, you can even learn how to post propaganda of your own; someone will teach you how to break into bus-shelter ads (and you can take your tools home). CBC Trending has a gallery of all the twisted sights.

Progress Trap

Maskull Lasserre. Progress Trap, 2014 (Courtesy of Maskull Lasserre)

Most of Lasserre's five sculptures can be found in the park's gallery space, the most traditional viewing area in this sprawling, satirical funhouse. A few more are scattered in more unexpected spots. Progress Trap, for example, a 2014 sculpture of a folding utility chair whose seat has been transformed into a toothy bear trap, appears in a tent "with a number of other sort of subversive furniture objects – and a Damien Hirst unicorn in a box."

When first contacted about the project, Lasserre wasn't told much. He got some "broad stroke" details. The gist: Banksy was creating "an abandoned theme park."

"Banksy suggested a couple of works, I offered a couple, and then we came to a consensus about how they'd fit within the context of the rest," Lasserre explains.

Grand Narrative

Maskull Lasserre. Grand Narrative, 2010 (Courtesy of Maskull Lasserre)

The requested items? Grand Narrative, which Lasserre describes as "a picture frame crossed with an armoured personnel carrier." Lasserre spent the spring of 2010 in Afghanistan, participating in the Canadian Forces Artist Program. The sculpture was developed during that time.


Maskull Lasserre. Outliers, 2014 (Courtesy of Maskull Lasserre)

The other special request was for Outliers: a collection of shoes where the soles have been carved to produce bare footprints – some human, some animal. For Dismaland, the piece is being shown with a new series of footprint photos, shot this week on the beach near the Dismaland grounds. (Thursday morning, Lasserre says Banksy was overseeing finishing touches on the prints' development. "There were some specific things Banksy had in mind for the orientation of some of the works.")

And then there are Lasserre's own suggested contributions, one of which you'll see in an upcoming episode of CBC Arts series The Re-Education of Eddy Rogo. It's called Beautiful Dreamer, and it's a series of spherical hand grenades. If you pull the pin, music will play. But only once. "You're faced with this debate about whether or not to deploy the work and lose it in the process."

Beautiful Dreamer

Maskull Lasserre. Beautiful Dreamer, 2014 (Courtesy of Maskull Lasserre)

An original sculpture, created especially for the show, appears in the gallery, too.


Janus (Courtesy of Maskull Lasserre)

It's a dissected carousel horse called Janus. Lasserre has painstakingly carved its grinning skeleton into the painted wood, and its creation was a moment of major serendipity. The week before receiving Banksy's e-mail, Lasserre had bought the antique at a Mississauga garage sale. "It seemed appropriate for the theme of the exhibition," Lasserre deadpans.


Maskull Lasserre. Janus, 2015 (Courtesy of Maskull Lasserre)

Banksy has declared that Dismaland is "an art show for the 99 per cent who would rather not be at an art show." It's a statement Lasserre connects with.

"I have to say that, despite the fact that I spend my life making these things, I probably spend an embarrassingly little amount of time going to galleries and looking at other art," he says. "So this is naturally interesting to me," he says of Dismaland. "So this is naturally interesting to me because it's quotidian in some sense. … It's in some ways much more immediate than a gallery experience. In that way I can understand it."


People ride a carousel at 'Dismaland', a theme park-styled art installation by British artist Banksy, at Weston-Super-Mare in southwest England, Britain, August 20, 2015. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

Demand for tickets has been unsurprisingly high, and the official website crashed soon after general sales began. Admission is a mere $6, and 4,000 tickets will be available each day until the spectacle closes on Sept. 27.

Lasserre's experience of the Dismaland park has been, in a word, "overwhelming."

"One's never sure if you're looking at the legitimate article or some subverted artwork. It's quite disorienting in several ways, and I think that's the value of it," he says. "For me, anyway, it has this satisfying effect, in that when you leave this environment, and walk down the pier, into the town, you kind of observe the rest of reality in this slightly different way. You're a little more suspicious of everything around you, having gone through this environment that's so heavily laden with irony and social critique and these other prerogatives.

"In terms of the spectacle of this whole thing, it's definitely beyond my experience."

CBC Arts wants to hear your feedback

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Submission Policy

Note: The CBC does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that CBC has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Please note that comments are moderated and published according to our submission guidelines.