Discover the Architecture of Staged Realities

Saskia van Stein about her new exhibition about Disney

17.01.2022  |  by Cato Verhoeven  |  Choose Your Story

Disney has been in our lives for over a century. From humble hand-drawn animations to the imperium it is today. Many generations in Western society have grown up with Disney and his characters. Has he changed us and our perception of reality? The exhibition Architecture of Staged Realities at Het Nieuwe Instituut delves deep into the effects Walt Disney has on our society.

Saskia van Stein is the curator of The Architecture of Staged Realities, director at the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam, Head of the Master of Arts The Critical Inquiry Lab Design Academy Eindhoven and moderator at What Design Can Do.

“As a community we like to put ourselves up to stories. We used to find them in the Bible, but nowadays we may find them on Instagram. Stories have an indicative effect. It refers back to our identity. You will see or seek yourself through the lens of these stories. For example, why do young girls like to wear princess dresses,” questions Saskia. “Another question that is not often asked: how does our material surrounding inform our identity? Where do we feel at home?” This and more is explored by her in this exhibition.

The exhibition questions certain aspects of Disney cultural production. Like the male-female or other gendered relationship, the copy and the original, the role of stereotypes, the feeling of belonging, connectivity and storytelling in architecture. The exhibition connects the present to the past and shows which influences Disney has (had) in our society. How much of their influences do you recognize in daily life? Which unconscious influence does Disney have on you?

Van Stein continues: “We enter the scenography of Frédérique Albert-Bordenave. We collaborated together with Disney’s quote ‘Imagination is the model of which reality is built’ as a guideline. The color Go Away Green, a color Disney patented, is the guiding principle for the imaginary. Once an imagination is realised, it determines our outlook on reality. It is a reciprocity in time in which we are all captured."

Go Away Green is a color that we don't register. This color is used to hide all the backstage buildings and construction walls in Disneyland, so the audience can experience Disney without distraction.

Van Stein: “Walt Disney is of simple descent. He was born in 1901 in the town of Marceline, MO. When you enter Disneyland, you begin on Main Street. From there, the other theme parks branch off. So in a way, isn’t he constantly trying to reconstruct his own life?"

“Castaway Cay, a pirate island, is situated in the archipelago of the Bahamas. In the 50s, an aviator built a landing site on this island when it was still called ‘Corda Cay’. It was the perfect hub to smuggle cocaine to Miami. Disney has signed a 100 year lease on this island and changed it drastically to fit the Disney narrative. So, they gave it a different name and rewrote history and made it a pirate island, even though there were never pirates present. You see they created this sweet Disney story which replaces the real history of the place.”

Van Stein: “The complexity of Disney, of Walt himself, strikes me. His incredible drive to innovate. I live so close to that man, that I have some sort of ambiguous relationship with him. There are things that I dislike or rather that are problematic with a contemporary gaze. To a certain extent he is a character I made up, since he is already deceased. I really respect his courage. For example, he sold his car and took out a double mortgage to make his first full feature animated movie. Who takes risks like that? To really do something that you believe in. He changed his birth date on his birth certificate from 1901 to 1900 to be an ambulance driver during the First World War. That’s where is all began, Walt familiarized himself with fairytales and the architecture of the Old European continent, then upon his return these stories served to unify a nation of migrants, the US."

For over a century, Disney has brought us all kinds of stories. Have they played a big role in your childhood? And how did these stories change you and your perspective on life? The Architecture of Staged Realities might give you new perspectives and lets you question your relation to Disney.

Due to the government restrictions, currently the exhibition is not open for the public. The final day of the exhibition will be on March 27.

About the Author

Cato Verhoeven