Thursday, 2 August 2007
SOME VIEWS OF MARJETICA POTRC'S FOREST SETTLEMENT AT THE BARBICAN
24 May 2007 - 2 September 2007
The Curve, Barbican Art Center
A colourful rural schoolhouse—equipped with a satellite dish, solar panels and a helicopter pad and surrounded by plants—is suspended atop more than three dozen sturdy tree trunks. This seemingly utopian structure by Marjetica Potrc rises three metres above the gallery floor and recalls the experimental architectural designs of Yona Friedman and Constant Nieuwenhuys who envisioned multi-level cities elevated on pilotis, offering new freedom and mobility to the expanding populace and meeting their social, spatial and physical needs. Titled Forest Rising, Potrc’s new installation commissioned for The Curve, owes a debt to these visionary figures of the late 1950s and early 1960s. But her project also draws inspiration from the practical solutions developed by the Croa River community in Acre, Brazil’s western-most state, in response to pressing social, economic and environmental issues.
Potrc takes cues from the improvised structures devised by people in developing rural and urban communities and solutions by architects and planners to address fundamental human needs—shelter, food and water, safety and education. Originally trained as an architect in Ljubljana, Potrc went on to study fine art and, since the mid-1990s, has been making sculptures, installations and drawings based on, relief housing, dry toilets and sustainable constructions in rapidly developing and shrinking cities. It is revealing that Potrc calls her projects ‘case studies’, emphasising the detailed research and analysis at the heart of her practice and also linking her work to the social sciences.
In 2006, Potrc was invited to undertake a residency as part of her participation in the 27th São Paulo Biennial and the exhibition’s theme ‘How to Live Together’, a title borrowed from Roland Barthes, prompted her to ask ‘how do Amazonian communities live with each other and with the outside world?’ She decided to travel to Acre to find answers.
Once there she saw how the Acreanos have been developing a model for the future of their community by focusing on small scale economies, collective ownership and linking local and global knowledge. Community leaders and activists have also conceived of a new idea of citizenship (‘Florestania’) based on economic and cultural ties to the forest instead of the city. The Brazilian government supports these initiatives by setting up ‘extractive reserves’, land allotted to local inhabitants for sustainable use, such as rubber tapping and low-impact farming.
Back in São Paulo, Potrc presented Xapuri: Rural School (2006) at the Biennial. Her installation featured a simple wooden schoolhouse on stilts with satellite dish and solar panels. It was modelled on a primary school she saw in Xapuri, a small town in Acre where union leader and environmental activist Chico Mendes lived and was assassinated by ranchers. A product of collaboration between local communities and the government, this type of school has its own source of energy and is connected to the world beyond.
Potrc has further developed her Xapuri rural school case study for the Barbican. At the entrance to The Curve, a model of the Galileo satellite floats overhead and, along the 80 metre wall, the story of the Croa River community unfolds in a series of wall drawings and in a video of Potrc’s conversation with José Roca, the curator who invited her to participate in the São Paulo Biennial. Potrc’s simple line drawings with text are a cross between experimental paper architecture, conceptual art and illustrated children’s stories. The first drawing, for example, starts out like a fairytale: ‘Far away from São Paulo, at the edge of Amazonia: a forest, a river, the Croa community’.
In other drawings, Potrc makes reference to Friedman’s mobile architecture, Constant’s New Babylon and the ideas of Hélio Oiticica. She links these 60s ‘thinkers’ with today’s ‘doers’ in the Croa community.
Following the trajectory of The Curve, the viewer encounters Potrc’s dramatic installation two-thirds of the way through the gallery. The sinuous platform elevated on tree trunks evokes Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer’s curvilinear structures supported by columns, such as his Grande Marquise in Ibirapuera Park which is also home to the São Paulo Biennial.
Forest Rising presents a powerful vision of Amazonian life in the twenty-first century. Potrc’s work inevitably points to the dangers of globalisation, climate change and unsustainable economic development. However, firmly imbued with an aesthetic of hope, Forest Rising shows how rural living can offer a model for the future; a vibrant community that is at one and the same time self-supporting and globally connected.