THE FINA OF DISNEYLAND

WHERE PRIVATE & PUBLIC MEET

Will Jennings

My last Medium post was about the Islamic urban design concept of fina, an invisible boundary of around 1.5metres that edges the public surrounding of a private property which is sits in public space but is managed by, and can be used by, the private owner. They have to permit public ease of use and can add benches or lights, and it operates as a transitional space between private and public, a softening of that hard division and an invitation to create an urban street space which is tidy, organised but also individual and local.

© The Florida Project, Sean Baker

The concept was brought to mind with two pieces of art I have just seen, both related to ephemeral spaces surrounding Disney resorts, one of which is The Florida Project, a film by Sean Baker observing the precarious existence of a mother and daughter residing in a motel occupied by other struggling Americans who live outside of the American dream. The motel itself is also on the edge of that dream, located in the penumbra of Disneyland, a borderland of non-place, occasional Disney-themed knockoff shops and spaces selling sickly, brightly coloured foods sit alongside the grey roads that surround the ultimate site of American spectacle.

Though the camera and narrative remains firmly rooted in the somewhat less dreamlike urbanscape of motels, car-parks, abandoned housing schemes and detritus of capitalist speculation, the reflected aura of Disneyland is ever-present, the fireworks of the park can be seen shooting into the air and the helicopters delivering richer visitors can be seen landing nearby. The characters we follow, predominantly children growing up in this architectural abandonment, exist within the fina of Disney, a space which there is physical public boundary but a fina which they take far less interest in responsibly owning and caring for compared to the tightly controlled, managed and curated experiences within their walls.

© The Florida Project, Sean Baker

This edgeland is also explored in Real Snow White by Finnish artist Pilvi Takala, which I saw in the South London Gallery’s group exhibition on comedic art. There was barely a moment of even ironic laughter as relief in The Florida Project, and while the film of Takala raised more smiles than Baker’s study, it still explored the same strange atmosphere of control and abandonment that exists outside of the border of such spaces of consumption.

© Real Snow White, Pilvi Takala

In Takala’s work she is surreptitiously filmed as she approaches the entrance to Disneyland Paris and queues for entry while dressed as Snow White. Some families approach her and ask for photos, before security come up with fewer notes of pleasure. Over the duration of the film the aura of Disney is explored, as security officials tell her she looks too much like the “real” Snow White to enter, that it would be OK for a child to dress up but not an adult, and that it may confuse people if she was to smoke or swear and break the Disney magic. This was a tight policing of the immediate fina of their territory, one which was littered with sales opportunities and the objects of touristic consumption, but which were all OK within such a liminal space.

It’s unclear if Takala’s Snow White is in a public or private space. It’s being guarded by private security but all the warnings are telling Takala she cannot enter dressed like this, and while they don’t tell her she can’t exist in the fina space she is in dressed as he is, they shepherd and coral her to the public toilets to dress into something less Snow-White-like.

© Real Snow White, Pilvi Takala

Disneyland presents itself as a utopian town, a geography created from selective referencing and landforming, but what happens at the edges of utopia? Thomas More surrounded his Utopia with water, Disney with security. This is perhaps a test of what the fina is. In my last post I suggested, perhaps optimistically, that the fina could offer this way of navigating the boundary between private and public in a loose way which benefited both spaces but also deeply added to the social, transient spaces of flow, public and movement. These two films suggest I was indeed optimistic, and that when the private space is such a curated, controlled space of capitalistic experience then the fina can’t operate as a space of relaxation into public realm but a possible site of expansion of corporate control.

But only so far as the control is useful. It is useful for Disney to control the queues and immediate space that Takala was disrupting, but just a road junction or two away and into the site of The Florida Project and they have less interest in offering their hand of friendship or clarity. The families that live in the Florida motel may gaze upon the fireworks that fill the Disney sky above the Disney dreams, but that is the only aura they bask under — there is no dripdown benefit from existing in the shade of Mickey Mouse’s ears just a darkness which is excruciatingly hard to navigate through physical, psychological and financial paths.

© The Florida Project, Sean Baker

Should we expect any more of corporate fina? How could it ever operate as a space of fluidity between private and public when there is always that opportunity for private to reach, control, grab and absorb? The rapid increase of privately owned public spaces (POPS) in London, and elsewhere, means that spaces that appear public, that have the image and apparent access of public space, are privately owned, can be closed off and have rules and restrictions in place. These create an urban fabric for the consumer more than a citizen, and are designed to appear like a public space, themed as a city within a city, slowly expanding to consume more of the public and social city.

Capitalist and neoliberal entities are only going to shine their light, finance and interest in their shadows when it benefits what they do within their walls whether that be through image and PR, directing consumers towards them or taking control of more territory. That which is outside its needs and is not territory it wishes to conquer and absorb yet, such as the populated motels in The Florida Project, are far enough outside of their fina to not threaten the utopian image. Takala’s Snow White did.

© Real Snow White, Pilvi Takala

FURTHER READING

Baker, S. The Florida Project: http://floridaproject.movie/

Hakim, B. Mediterranean Urban and Building Codes: Origins, Content, Impact, and Lessons: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1057/udi.2008.4

Shenker, J. Revealed: the insidious creep of pseudo-public space in London: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/jul/24/revealed-pseudo-public-space-pops-london-investigation-map

Sorkin, M. See You in Disneyland: https://www.scribd.com/document/244821640/Sorkin-M-see-You-in-Disneyland-Chapter-1999

Takala, P. Real Snow White: http://pilvitakala.com/real-snow-white/

Will Jennings

Written by

London based artist & writer on cities, architecture & culture. Side-lines in activism, photography, cultural programming and teaching. www.willjennings.info

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