The Lakes:
Riflemaker, London, March/April 2011

 

Opened in 1961, Parque del Este in Caracas, is a recognised jewel of modernist architecture. The design, by Roberto Burle Marx and a team of architects including Fernando Tábora, has over the years been corrupted by modifications which sit uneasily with the original concept. The ten new canvases and boat sculpture by Venezuelan Jaime Gili take as their starting point an aerial view of the nine lakes set within this unique landscape.

As a young artist growing up in Caracas, Gili witnessed these alterations to the site. The area, the changes in the surroundings and its rich history continue to inspire him.

In 1969, a full-scale replica of Nao Santa Maria, the ship that brought Christopher Columbus to America’s mainland coast, was placed in one of the lakes by the government of the time. The sight of a galleon-style flagship anchored within this waterland retreat seemed incongruous to the park’s many regular visitors. More recently, the government of Hugo Chávez, considering that vessel a symbol of colonial power, removed the galleon, but proposed replacing it with yet another replica, that of galleon “Leander”, which in 1806 transported the War of Independence leader Francisco de Miranda back to Venezuela with the new Venezuelan flag, another incongruous addition.

Gili has always considered the Park del Este in its original state a perfectly executed masterpiece, the subsequent changes inflicted on the aesthetics of the place raises questions about public art and landscape; post-colonial politics and propaganda, Modernism and heritage; all within the specific history of the park in question; its shipwrecks, mini-Utopias – and failures.

For the first time the artist has introduced curves into his visual language. Foliate leaves are set against modulating backgrounds. Teardrop and paisley shapes evoke the soft quality of this retreat - the paintings referencing a very specific story of architectural design and the beautiful Lakes and gardens contained therein.

A Riflemaker book is published to accompany the exhibition

with texts by: Iain Carson, Hannia Gómez, Robin Mann and Alan Powers

The Lakes is curated by Robin Mann

jaime gili the lakes

E11 lago 11 (la carlota) 2011

 

jaime gili the lakes

Invite to the exhibition at Riflemaker, 2011. Left Photograph: Aviary, c.1965. Photo by Fernando Tábora. Right: Jaime Gili, E1, Lago 1, 2010, acrylic on canvas.

 

jaime gili the lakes

Opening night

 

jaime gili the lakes

E5 Lake 5, 2010

 

jaime gili the lakes

Installation view at Riflemakker, 2011

 

jaime gili_jaime gili

"A Boat for lake 10", painted reclaimed speed boat,wood, video monitor. Installation view at Riflemaker, 2011

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Text by Hannia Gómez included in the catalogue of the exhibition (texto en español más abajo)

Archipelago, 1522
From the it. arcipèlago, primitively the name given to the Aegean Sea
(thus qualified as the "main sea") and its islands.1

Caracas major Modern Park is the Parque del Este (Roberto Burle Marx, 1956-61). This magnificent work of Landscape Architecture is located in the eastern part of the city on the lands of the Colonial Hacienda San José-La Ciénaga (“The Marsh”), thus called for its flooding terrains placed between two creeks. It is the city´s public park of highest use, with three millions visitors per year, and is internationally considered to be "Roberto Burle Marx’ s most important public work."2

This landmark park is the testimony of a traditional city that bet to transform itself through the best mid-century modern art, but is as well the memory and modern metaphor of the place. Burle Marx´s design is of great beauty and understanding of the land´s pre-existing natural conditions. The park Botanist, Leandro Aristeguieta, recalled how once put to work on the 190 acres of land, the landscape master followed a free design principle to define “ecological environments and gardens, incorporating the widest possible number of native ornamental species."3

Parque del Este is primarily comprised by three spaces: “an open, fluid, gently, wavy landscape of disperse shade trees and grass fields of subtle topography; a forest landscape, spatially dense with winding roads; and a sequence of paved gardens with intimate patios that refer to the Venezuelan colonial past, and that expose plants, ceramic murals and fountains."4 In all of these spaces and their different gardens, Burle Marx employed topography, the variety and exuberance of tropical flora and the multiple presence of water as main compositional elements.

The valley of Caracas is a territory with a heavy rain season. Water travels from north to south coming from the springs, cascades and creeks of El Avila Mountain to plunge into the Caracas River, El Guaire, and then run eastwardly to reach the far away Caribbean Sea. The park’s site was originally deeply marked by this water path, being a slightly inclined terrain leaning towards the river bed dotted with open plains, where water was retained to form temporary lakes of different sizes; a timeless archipelago of broken mirrors for the reflections of El Avila mountain.

The story of Burle Marx´s modern metaphor of this pre-existing ephemeral archipelago has just begun to be told. Thanks to "The Jardineiro of America", an 2009 exhibition celebrating the Brazilian artist´s centennial, it was first understood how he created a collection of thirty gardens to narrate the site´s natural cycle.5 Nowadays, when walking by the park, it is wonderful to read this narrative in the project… But it can also be read in Jaime Gili´s painted Lakes. Here, the artist abandons the traditional angles and straight lines of his former works to start following the seductive curvilinear forms of Burle Marx. And here, just as in the real park, we enter by the park´s northern gate to visit The Lakes. From there on, the promenade -real and the artistic-, performs a southward circle through a splendid sequence of chained precincts and colorful scenarios.

The promenade begins in a metaphor of El Avila mountain´s wells and cascades, the ponds of the Patio of the Tiled Walls, to follow with the monumental water jets of the Patio of the Circle-spotted Lawn. Walking southward beyond these geometric courtyards, opens up the wide perspective of the more naturalistic Hygrophilous Garden, or Lake N. 1 of the Aquatic Plants, a big bacteria-shaped lagoon spread among the grass and planted with huge colonies of tropical species. This first green-colored lake sets the aesthetics for the next water spaces that as a catena d´aqua flow one into the other, complexly mingling together to create a continuum of shadow and light over the bridges and under the trees: the so-called Lakes of the Animals, the central Lake N. 2 or Lake of the Herons; the Eastern Lake or Lake of the Ducks, and the Western Lake or Lake Carlos Guinand Sandoz.

Having trespassed them, come the eternal woods of the former Hacienda, the park´s Arboretum. Big towering trees, winding walkways, and architectural modern follies are to be found here. More ahead, still under the forest, we encounter more lakes: the enclosed small pond of the Serpentarium; the clover leaf-shaped Otters Lake; the big Reptiles Lake, the island-filled pond of the Monkeys Lake and the sunken Tigers Lake, already out of the forest area.

The circuit goes on south and down within the park´s domain. This is where all the waters used to accumulate when it rained hard, and where the neighboring creeks emerged to flood the entire area. Wisely, Burle Marx, acknowledging it, decided that this was the area to locate the park´s greatest lake, named the Southern Lake for Small Boats, or Lake N. 9, where all the waters meet. Further south, the empty plains of the Airport La Carlota are a reminder of a former Burle Marx project for expanding his park design, turning that huge flatland into a bigger urban park in the same Burlemarxian spirit.

tabora

Lago de los patos, photo by Fernando Tábora

The Parque del Este and its vast archipelago has been functioning and being preserved for decades. In 1998, the park was officially designated as a National Good of Cultural Interest. This designation comprised the protection of all of its environments, but also of an object alien to the original design, regretfully introduced in the lake in the 1970s against Burle Marx’s will, a replica of Christopher Columbus’ ship, the Santa Maria. Sadly, only now that the park is already more than half a century old, the city moved from the topic of its conservation to the struggle for its integrity and safeguard of its very existence.

Although Caracas has a magnificent modern heritage, this is, nevertheless, a nuisance for many today. Among the most polemic cases of the past years lays that of the Parque del Este. As the use of the park increased wildly, it was brought almost to a collapse, eroding the frontiers of its protection. The alterations of the original project multiplied, the superficial flora was almost totally lost and, day after day it seems more susceptible to bigger transgressions. Such is the case of all the illegal constructions that proliferate today, being the biggest and most critical of them all one known as the Leander Project, a fake ship and underground museum which began construction since mid 2008 on Lake N. 9.

One wonders how a situation like this could have ever been allowed in such a fundamental work in the history of modern landscape architecture. Evidently, it all began with the mistake of building the Santa María vessel on Lake N. 9, and mistakes are paid expensively. During the 1970s, when the vessel was installed, Burle Marx repeatedly declared his displeasure for a fact that he described as a “barbarity” that ruined Parque del Este’s coherence and design.

The rampant abandonment of the park took to the ship’s rot, thus becoming unusable. Without ever being removed, it was a daily deplorable spectacle. Is in this context that in 2006 a group of followers of Venezuela’s Independence hero Francisco de Miranda, convinced the President of Venezuela of replacing Columbus ship with a replica of his ship, the Leander. The matter would not have become more if one boat was merely substituted by another of equal characteristics. A ship floating on the water can always be removed, and is a reversible intervention. The problem is that from a simple ship the project evolved to an ambitious building that affects the lake area and the entire park’s designed cultural landscape. The truth is that once the new cultural attraction opens, this theme park menaces with turning the whole park into its backyard.

Fortunately, there is an alternative, or an exit to the entire affair, as Jaime Gili cleverly points out in this exhibition. There can exist a brand new Lake N. 10, on which any ship, boat or vessel can harbor. A contemporary lake, built on the flatlands of Airport La Carlota, when it is converted into the new urban park that the city is so badly asking for: the green Parque La Carlota, the extension of the Parque del Este. Just as Roberto Burle Marx dreamed, back in 1961.


 

map

Roberto Burle Marx, Parque del Este´s plan, 1958, gouache

 

Texto de Hannia Gómez incluído en el catálogo de la exposición

Archipiélago, 1522
Del it. arcipèlago, nombre primitivamente dado al Mar Egeo
(por ende calificado de "mar principal") y a sus islas.1

El principal parque moderno de Caracas es el Parque del Este (Roberto Burle Marx, 1956-61). Esta magnífica obra de arquitectura paisajista está ubicada al este de la ciudad en los terrenos de la colonial Hacienda San José-La Ciénaga, así llamada por sus tierras anegadizas situadas entre dos quebradas. Es el parque público de mayor uso en la ciudad, con tres millones de visitantes por año, y es internationalmente considerado "la obra pública más importante de Roberto Burle Marx."2

Este parque patrimonial es el testimonio de una ciudad tradicional que apostó a transformarse mediante el mejor arte moderno de mediados del siglo veinte, pero es también la memoria y la metáfora moderna del lugar. El diseño de Burle Marx es de gran belleza y comprensión de las condiciones naturales pre-existentes en el sitio. El botánico del parque, Leandro Aristeguieta, recordaba cómo una vez puesto a trabajar en los 190 acres de terreno, el maestro del paisaje siguió un principio libre de diseño para definir “ambientes y jardines ecológicos, incorporando el más amplio número posible de especias nativas ornamentales."3

El Parque del Este está compuesto principalmente por tres espacios: “un paisaje abierto, fluído, suave, ondulado de árboles de sombra dispersos y campos de grama de sutil topografía; un paisaje de floresta, espacialmente denso con calles curvas; y una secuencia de jardines pavimentados y patios íntimos que hacen referencia al pasado colonial venezolano, y donde se muestran plantas, murales cerámicos y fuentes."4 En todos estos espacios y sus diferentes jardines, Burle Marx usó la topografía, la variedad y exhuberancia de la flora tropical y la presencia múltiple del agua como principales elementos compositivos.

El valle de Caracas es un territorio con una fuerte estación lluviosa. El agua viaja de norte a sur bajando de los manatiales, las cascadas y las quebradas desde la montaña del Avila hasta caer en el río de Caracas, el Guaire, para entonces correr hacia el este hasta alcanzar el lejano mar Caribe. El lugar del parque estaba originalmente profundamente marcado por este patrón del agua, siendo como es un terreno ligeramente inclinado hacia el lecho del río salpicado de planicies abiertas, donde el agua era retenida y formaba lagos temporales de diferentes tamaños; un archipiélago atemporal de espejos rotos para los reflejos de la montaña del Avila.

La historia de la metáfora moderna de Burle Marx de este archipiélago efímero pre-existente has apenas comienza a ser contada. Gracias a "El Jardineiro de America", una exposición de 2009 que celebró el centenario del artista brasilero, se comprendió por primera vez cómo creó una colección de treinta jardines para narrar el ciclo natural del sitio the sitio.5 Hoy en día, al caminar por el parque, es maravilloso leer esta narrativa en el proyecto… Pero ésta también puede ser leída en los Lagos pintados de Jaime Gili. Aquí, el artista abandona los ángulos y las líneas rectas tradicionales de sus trabajos anteriores para empezar a seguir las seductoras formas curvilíneas de Burle Marx. Y aquí, al igual que en el parque real, entramos por la puerta norte del parque para visitar Los Lagos. De este punto en adelante, la promenade -real y artística-, desarrolla hacia el sur un círculo a través de una espléndida secuencia de recintos encadenados y coloridos escenarios.

La promenade comienza con una metáfora de los pozos y cascadas de la montaña del Avila: los estanques del Patio de las paredes de mosaicos, para continuar con los chorros de agua monumentales del Patio del gramado con círculos. Caminando hacia el sur más allá de estos patios geométricos, se abre la amplia perspectiva del más naturalista Jardín Hidrófilo, o Lago N. 1 de las Plantas Acuáticas, una gran laguna en forma de bacteria dispersa entre la grama y plantada de grandes colonias de especies tropicales. Este primer lago verde impone la estética de los próximos espacios de agua que como una catena d´aqua fluyen el uno en el otro, mezclándose complejamente entre sí para crear un continuum de sombra y de luz sobre los puentes y bajo los árboles: los llamados Lagos de los Animales, el central Lago N. 2 o Lago de las Garzas; el Lago Este o Lago de los Patos, y el Lago Oeste o Lago Carlos Guinand Sandoz.

Habiéndolos atravesado, aparece el bosque eterno de la antigua hacienda, el Arboretum del parque. Altos árboles, caminerías cimbreantes, y modernas follies arquitectónicas modern follies hemos de encontrar aquí. Más adelante, todavía bajo el bosque, encontramos más lagos: the enclosed small pond of the Serpentarium; the clover leaf-shaped Otters Lake; the big Reptiles Lake, the island-filled pond of the Monkeys Lake and the sunken Tigers Lake, already out of the forest area.

The circuit goes on south and down within the park´s domain. This is where all the waters used to accumulate when it rained hard, and where the neighboring creeks emerged to flood the entire area. Wisely, Burle Marx, acknowledging it, decided that this was the area to locate the park´s greatest lake, named the Southern Lake for Small Boats, or Lake N. 9, where all the waters meet. Further south, the empty plains of the Airport La Carlota are a reminder of a former Burle Marx project for expanding his park design, turning that huge flatland into a bigger urban park in the same Burlemarxian spirit.

The Parque del Este and its vast archipelago has been functioning and being preserved for decades. In 1998, the park was officially designated as a National Good of Cultural Interest. This designation comprised the protection of all of its environments, but also of an object alien to the original design, regretfully introduced in the lake in the 1970s against Burle Marx’s will, a replica of Christopher Columbus’ ship, the Santa Maria. Sadly, only now that the park is already more than half a century old, the city moved from the topic of its conservation to the struggle for its integrity and safeguard of its very existence.

Although Caracas has a magnificent modern heritage, this is, nevertheless, a nuisance for many today. Among the most polemic cases of the past years lays that of the Parque del Este. As the use of the park increased wildly, it was brought almost to a collapse, eroding the frontiers of its protection. The alterations of the original project multiplied, the superficial flora was almost totally lost and, day after day it seems more susceptible to bigger transgressions. Such is the case of all the illegal constructions that proliferate today, being the biggest and most critical of them all one known as the Leander Project, a fake ship and underground museum which began construction since mid 2008 on Lake N. 9.

One wonders how a situation like this could have ever been allowed in such a fundamental work in the history of modern landscape architecture. Evidently, it all began with the mistake of building the Santa María vessel on Lake N. 9, and mistakes are paid expensively. During the 1970s, when the vessel was installed, Burle Marx repeatedly declared his displeasure for a fact that he described as a “barbarity” that ruined Parque del Este’s coherence and design.

The rampant abandonment of the park took to the ship’s rot, thus becoming unusable. Without ever being removed, it was a daily deplorable spectacle. Is in this context that in 2006 a group of followers of Venezuela’s Independence hero Francisco de Miranda, convinced the President of Venezuela of replacing Columbus ship with a replica of his ship, the Leander. The matter would not have become more if one boat was merely substituted by another of equal characteristics. A ship floating on the water can always be removed, and is a reversible intervention. The problem is that from a simple ship the project evolved to an ambitious building that affects the lake area and the entire park’s designed cultural landscape. The truth is that once the new cultural attraction opens, this theme park menaces with turning the whole park into its backyard.

Fortunately, there is an alternative, or an exit to the entire affair, as Jaime Gili cleverly points out in this exhibition. There can exist a brand new Lake N. 10, on which any ship, boat or vessel can harbor. A contemporary lake, built on the flatlands del Aeropuerto La Carlota, when it is converted into the new urban park that the city is so badly asking for: el Parque verde La Carlota, la extensión del Parque del Este. Just as Roberto Burle Marx dreamed, back in 1961.

 

NOTES:

1. Corominas, Juan, "PIELAGO", Breve Diccionario Etimológico de la Lengua Castellana, Editorial Gredos S.A., Madrid, 1976, P. 457.
2. Berrizbeitia, Anita. Roberto Burle Marx in Caracas: Parque del Este, 1956-1961, Penn Studies in Landscape Architecture Series, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004.
3. Gómez, Hannia. "The Anti Monument". theurbantimes.com/ London, September 7th, 2010; Opinion, EL NACIONAL. Caracas, Tuesday, Septiember 23rd., 2008.
4. Berrizbeitia, A. Op. Cit. 5. CENTRO de la Ciudad, "Los treinta jardines del Parque del Este", in: "El Jardineiro de América", Patio de los Espejos, Trasnocho Centro Cultural, Paseo Las Mercedes, Caracas, Nov. 2009- Jan. 2010.

Publicado en: Robin Mann, Ian Carson, Hannia Gómez, Alan Powers. The Lakes. Libro de la exposición Jaime Gili-The Lakes. Riflemaker Gallery, Londres, 2011.

 

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Concrete structures on the park. Photographs by Jaime Gili 2010

Estructuras de concreto en el parque. Fotografías de Jaime Gili 2010

jaime gili concrete

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Concrete structures on the park. Photographs by Jaime Gili 2010

Estructuras de concreto en el parque. Fotografías de Jaime Gili 2010

 

 

 

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