Saturday, November 22, 2014

Brazilian Tourist Blog – Part 3, Inhotim

Saudade (nostalgia) for Inhotim at the Rio Botanical Garden
We left Ouro Preto and returned by bus to Belo Horizonte.  We had booked a hotel close to the bus station since we planned to spend the next two days traveling by bus to Inhotim – a unique venue that combines world-class botanical gardens with outstanding contemporary art.  It is located in the countryside west of Belo Horizonte.  There is only one public bus a day that goes to Inhotim.  It leaves the bus station every morning at 8:15 am and returns every afternoon, leaving Inhotim at 4:30 pm. The next day, after an early breakfast, we took a taxi to the bus station and discussed with the driver the safety of walking the distance (~1.6 km) in the evening.  The cabbie assured us that the short walk would be safe in the daylight.  For the rest of our visit we walked to and from the bus station.

Like the bus to Ouro Preto, the bus to Inhotim is comfortable and modern with reclining reserved seats and air conditioning.  The trip is long – it takes one hour and 45 minutes to travel one way.  Part of the time is spent just getting out of Belo Horizonte traveling through clogged roads bordered by seemingly endless commercial areas and sprawling suburbs.  Everything looked poor.  Many of the houses were made out of crude bricks and cement with no plaster or paint – reminiscent of the favelas (slums) around São Paulo; skinny horses grazed along the roadsides; even the commercial establishments looked as if they’d seen better times – empty parking lots and signs that were falling apart.  We saw closed restaurants and abandoned, derelict buildings.  We passed a series of paper recycling facilities where the workers appeared to be homeless people who slept on the pavement outside the metal shuttered doors.  Here and there a gated residential complex advertised a better life with pictures of brightly painted houses and trees and swimming pools.  Eventually we came to a more rural landscape – but it too was poor – dirt roads, small, impoverished farms, skinny cattle and unkempt patches of scrub forest.  We passed through the nearest small town, Brumadinho, itself looking somewhat depressed.  Then we arrived in a completely different world.  Even the Inhotim parking lot is smartly paved.  I was reminded again that Brazil is a country of extreme contrasts.

Inhotim is an extraordinary institution.  To call it a park is an understatement.  The place was first conceived by Minas Gerais businessman Bernardo de Mello Paz in the 1980’s and designed by the late great landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx.  It opened to the general public in 2006 and has significant collections of both contemporary art and botanical species from around the world.  I refer you to their website for more about the collections, the institution, its history and philosophy.  My blog records only my own personal impressions – all in words with no photographs.  Inhotim requests that all outdoor photographs be only for personal use.  No photographs are allowed inside the galleries.  In honoring this request, I must say that the combination of landscape and art at Inhotim is impressive.  The few photographs I include are from other places.  Hopefully my words will “paint a picture” of Inhotim and the interactions between its plants and art in all its forms!  Let me know!  I highly recommend a visit or, at minimum, perusal of Inhotim’s website.  Burle Marx’ landscape designs alone are stunning but when combined with the architecture of the pavilions, the winding paths and wooden benches set in shaded glades throughout the grounds, it is a brilliant space unlike anything I have ever seen before.  Paz keeps the park accessible to all by personally subsidizing its operations.  Inhotim supports multiple school and community programs (we saw many groups of school children during our visit) and the continuous development of knowledge in all its dimensions.

We entered Inhotim by following the first of many paved wide walkways.  We called them the red brick roads since the interlocking brick pavers are a light terra cotta color.  The first path led to the reception area where we bought our tickets and received a map.  The map is excellent and includes an accurate schematic of all the paths, numbered art installations and galleries as well as the important botanical plantings, restaurants, snack bars, bathrooms and lakes.  The park is divided into three areas that are color coded (pink, yellow and orange) for ease of identification.  Small directional signs with numbers and artist’s names help guide you.  We found that virtually everything is clearly marked and it is pretty easy to find what you are looking for.  The good map and signage are important because Inhotim is very large (almost 5,000 acres) and the paths wind up and down hilly terrain, through tropical woodlands, around lakes and into hidden gardens.  During a day’s visit, we walked several miles, often over fairly steep grades.  For those who are less fit or unable to walk easily, Inhotim provides chauffeured golf carts for a reasonable fee.

Tree in bloom at the Rio Botanical Garden
Flowers and trees are in bloom everywhere.  Interspersed among the gardens and woodlands are art installations, often by a single artist, sometimes outside, sometimes in purpose-built pavilions.  Sometimes a gallery includes work by several artists pursuing a single theme.  At lunch we sat outside on beautifully molded white plastic chairs and ate hot dogs and drank ice-cold water.  We opted not to take the time to eat at one of the full service restaurants.  We wanted to conserve our time to see more art.  We only had two days at Inhotim and that is not enough.  Each installation is different – many are inspired and inspirational; some fun and funny; some disturbing and even haunting.  The very first installation we entered was by Lygia Pape.  The gallery is set in a leafy glade; as we entered, I realized it was completely dark – I followed the wall trying to adjust my eyes to the darkness and trying to keep close to my brother-in-law.  I was in complete blackness then, suddenly, I was in a large open space filled with tiny parallel lines of luminescent wires set at angles that started somewhere in the darkness above me and traveled to the floor in front of me.  The wires were strung tightly in sets of eight or ten spaced very close together like piano wires.  Their luminous quality stemmed, I presume, from tiny spotlights.  The installation was large and multidimensional.  Depending on where you stood, some wire groupings disappeared into thin air and others appeared crossing over or under another set at sharp angles.  I forgot the darkness and looked only at the mysterious glowing wires.  Afterwards, when we walked back out into the bright tropical light we had to readjust our eyes.  We walked up another path and entered a pavilion by Adriana Varejão.  It looked like a set of rectangular concrete bunkers one perched on top of another.  We began on the flat roof where simple benches ran along the edges of the geometric space.  The benches were made out of square white tiles, each with a unique graphic depicting one of the hundreds of species of Amazon birds.  At the end of one bench, a staircase led down into a large interior gallery. 
Azulejo Murals in Villa Viçoza, Portugal

Here the walls were covered with oversized tiles – each a separate graphic of baroque Portuguese painted blue tiles –azulejos – not in a picture but all jumbled randomly as if someone had taken an azulejo mural apart, then blown it up and scrambled the tiles into a nonsensical giant mural.  I love azulejo murals and liked this curious take on the Portuguese tradition.  Another staircase led to the next level down where an organized mural of a tiled room and pool in monochromatic grey felt modern and restful after the supersized jumbled azulejos.  Outside another tiled bench where each tile depicted one of the poisonous or hallucinogenic plants in the world sat on a platform in the middle of a series of rectangular reflecting pools.  The pool edges were full of tiny tadpoles and the tile bench was full of clamoring school children.  They entered the building and peace returned.  Another installation, Beam Drop by Chris Burden, was reached by hiking up a long hill to a wide-open meadow high above the surrounding landscape.  Beam Drop is dramatic – it consists of many iron beams of varying origin and size that were dropped from the air, on end, into drying concrete.  The sheer weight of each heavy rusted beam contrasts with the graceful ensemble of all the beams, almost dancing together, the whole thing silhouetted against a clear blue sky.

These are only three examples of many installations we visited – and there were whole parts of the park we did not have time to visit.  Every installation is different.  It is impossible to choose a favorite although perhaps, for me, the sound installation by Janet Cardiff comes close.  We saved it for the first and last visit on our second day having heard that it is impressive.  It is.  The installation is called Forty part motet – a motet (yes I had to look it up) is a short piece of sacred choral music, typically sung without accompaniment.  Cardiff’s installation is of a motet, Spem in Alium written by Thomas Tallis, a 16th century English composer,  to celebrate Queen Elizabeth I’s birthday.  It is a magnificent piece of music, written for eight choirs of five voices each.  Cardiff recorded forty voices from the Salisbury Cathedral Choir individually and placed forty speakers in their eight groupings of five voices around a white open space. Tallis intended the piece to speak to transcendence and humility.  In my experience, Janet Cardiff’s installation does both.  The first time I listened, I simply lay on a wooden bench in the middle of the hall and just experienced the music.  Later, on the same day, I wandered around the hall, alternately listening to individual voices as they came into hearing and then, listening to all the voices together.  It is an experience I will not forget. 
Bromeliad at the Rio Botanical Garden
In describing just a few of the installations we experienced, I haven’t even spoken about the plants and their infinite variety.  But that will have to be another blog.  It is not possible to know Inhotim in only two days. 

1 comment:

  1. I saw Janet Cardiff's Forty Part Motet last fall at The Cloisters in New York! It was an incredible experience. I can only imagine what it would be like in a setting like Inhotim!!