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Video Room: Melanie Smith Museum of Art of São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand

Since the 1980s, artist Melanie Smith (Poole, England, 1965) has lived between London and Mexico City, and her work explores the processes of modernization in Latin America.

The video Fordlândia (2014) shows fragments of the eponymous district located on Tapajós River’s banks in Pará. Fordlândia was conceived in 1927 by the American auto tycoon Henry Ford (1863–1947) as a factory for extracting latex from rubber trees. Other species of this plant were scientifically modified and planted in the region. In addition to the factory, there was an urbanization project that led migrants to populate the district, which had schools, hospitals, recreational spaces—such as a golf course—, and prefabricated houses in the United States. All this shows how the American way of life was transferred to the Amazon, in an obvious colonization process. At the factory, strict norms of behavior were applied: an 8-hour workday regime, marked by sirens and time clocks, food based on hamburgers, and prohibition of alcohol consumption, among other forms of control—which led to an uprising in 1930, harshly suppressed by the army.

In the 1940s, the rubber trees, which were planted with small distances between them, were attacked by pests. However, it was already possible to manufacture synthetic latex in a more profitable way, which caused the factory’s closure in 1945. The workers remained in the district, where they began to work in agriculture and livestock.

The video Fordlândia shows the city and the interaction between nature and architecture developed over time. The work is assembled by free and unsynchronized associations between images and sounds. The editing of the scenes is done through relations of shapes, textures, and colors, and the alternation of close and distant shots, which produces a non-linear narrative (lacking beginning, middle, and end) and with a strong sensorial appeal. Far from denouncing the absurdities of modernization, the video shows the ways of life and sociability that emerged in Fordlândia beyond the attempts of control by its creator in the early twentieth century.

Video Room: Melanie Smith is curated by Leandro Muniz, Curatorial Assistant, MASP.

Throughout 2021 and 2022, the Video Room program is part of the cycle of Histórias brasileiras [Brazilian Histories] at MASP and, in 2022, it includes works by Letícia Parente, Tamar Guimarães, Melanie Smith, Bárbara Wagner & Benjamin de Burca, and Aline Motta.