In 2014 Outset Netherlands supported the production and acquisition of Melanie Smith’s new work Fordlandia for Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam. Fordlandia takes place in the Brazilian Amazon, where Henry Ford attempted to establish a rubber plantation in the 1920s. In this work Smith explores the tension between nature and industrial development.
The film relates to a new industrial world that car manufacturer Henry Ford created in the Amazonian rainforest in the 1920s. The mission was to produce the largest amount of rubber in the world and technicians, machinery and prefabricated homes were shipped from the United States to create a copy of a U.S. town. Despite the vast investment, Ford’s dream turned into a disaster and very little latex was ever extracted in Fordlandia.
The film is a visual diary that provides a critical reflection on Ford’s ambitions, tracing a battle between American ingenuousness and nature. It also challenges the image of the Amazon jungle as a metaphor for terror and cruelty, referencing writers and film-makers such as Thomas Whiffen, Werner Herzog and Joseph Conrad, whose accounts portray an aggressive, racist, romantic and intensely male-identified landscape.
By focussing on the flora and fauna, the natural indigenous life of the region, the film serves to underline the absurdity of Ford’s endeavour and situates the natural world in opposition to these colonial visions.
Melanie Smith (1965, Poole, UK) has lived and worked in Mexico City since 1989. Recurring themes in her work include migration, travel, adventure, getting lost, utopian ambitions and dislocation. Melanie Smith is trained as a painter and makes photographs, installations, films and videos. Her work has been exhibited internationally. In 2011 she represented Mexico at the Venice Biennale. She has published three artist’s books: Red Square Impossible Pink (2011), Parres (2008) and Spiral City and Other Vicarious Pleasures (2006). Her work is included in important private and public collections, such as Tate Modern, London, and Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen.
In 2012 Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen acquired Smith’s video Xilitla (2011). In this film Smith explores the Mexican rain forest and stumbles upon mysterious ruins overgrown with vegetation. The fantastic structures and follies were built by Edward James, the eccentric collector of Dalí, Delvaux and Magritte, part of whose collection was acquired by Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in the 1970s.