Most of my artwork results from my obsession with the integration of the organic and the artificial in all areas of our human experience. Not surprisingly, deliberately engineered landscapes hold a special allure for me, and few places are as meticulously planned as theme parks.
Disneyland, which opened in Anaheim in 1955, was a pioneer in immersive environmental design, and remains one of the most thoroughly controlled “landscapes” found anywhere. “Ornament Valley” – the backdrop for Cars Land, which opened in 2012 – set a new benchmark for realism, surpassing Disney’s own previous achievements. Through extensive use of forced perspective and carefully structured viewpoints, visitors may feel transported to a familiar location in the desert west, or, alternately, inserted into Cars, the animated film itself. But the only way to actually enter this scene physically, is onboard a high speed, life-sized slot car, in which you are along for the ride.
In retrospect, Cars Land may be considered a mere warm-up for Galaxy’s Edge, the fully immersive Star Wars-themed land which opened in 2019, and which fulfilled a long sought dream of Disney Imagineers and science fiction enthusiasts alike, for a hyperreal cinematic space, in which visitors can actually “live” inside a fictitious, but fully functioning location. Renaissance fairs, immersive theater, virtual reality, and other first-person role-playing scenarios have been striving to perfect this phenomenon in recent years. Disney’s designers can be credited with raising the bar for the physical and narrative elements of this burgeoning antidote to screen-based life and entertainment.
When we pay to enter these parks, we consciously escape the “real” world for a day, and choose to immerse ourselves in a hyper-idealized rendering of it. That the “magic” is highly constructed only impresses us more. But after we exit for the night, we might be surprised to notice how much the artifice follows us home, as we pass manicured strip malls on the way to our own well-groomed neighborhoods.