Photography | Brasilia, Utopia, and Inertia

Chamber of Deputies (Annex IX) #2, 2012



Vincent Fournier
‘Brasilia’
The Ravestijn Gallery
Amsterdam | The Netherlands
16 April > 28 May 2016



Brasilia, the purpose-built federal capital of Brazil, constructed from scratch in the middle of the 1950s by urban planner Lucío Costa with landscape designer Roberto Burle Marx and architect Oscar Niemeyer, is grappling with a dilemma. Planned for around 500,000 inhabitants, in 1960 – the year of its inauguration – there were already almost 140,000 people resident in the city. By 1970 the figure had grown to 537,000. It has now reached 2.5m and is growing at a phenomenal rate of almost 3% per year. The question is how to reconcile the pressing needs of the increasing population with the utopian dream on which the city was founded.

The Claudio Santoro - National Theatre,
ceramic tile panel
by Athos Bulcão, 2012



The torpid atmosphere pervading the narrative in Vincent Fournier’s ‘Brasilia’ series seems to imply that a solution, which deals effectively with the situation, if indeed one does emerge, might be a long time in coming. The anonymous single figure in his Chamber of Deputies (Annex IX) #2, 2012, could be looking for an inspired idea in the landscape beyond his circular window. The image conveys no sense of anticipation, but the bored children photographed at The Claudio Santoro National Theatre appear to have been waiting for some time – the security man, a permanent fixture, is rooted to his position.

The Itamaraty Palace - Foreign Relations Ministry,
spiral stairs, 2012



Having been declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1987, Brasilia’s extremely strict planning controls ensure that, unlike it’s close contemporary, Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh (still only tentatively listed for UWHS status), which is gradually being eroded and is at risk from the ad hoc mixed development that scars most other Indian cities, and where slum areas have already been established, the pristine Brazilian city’s limits are still easily distinguishable from the expanse of virgin landscape into which it was introduced.

The Itamaraty Palace - Foreign Relations Ministry,
wood and steel panel
by Athos Bulcão, 2012



Inertia stops the energetically curving spiral staircase in Fournier’s photograph of the Foreign Relations Ministry, at The Itamaraty Palace, dead in its tracks, while a busy wood and steel decorative panel at the same location masks a hive of inactivity.

Unesco go so far as to admit that Brasilia is vulnerable to urban development pressure including increased traffic and public transport requirements, but insist that the singular and outstanding value of Lucio Costa’s scheme, ‘which remains wholly preserved, both physically and symbolically’, is not in jeopardy.

The Ravestijn Gallery is showing a selection of 36 photographs from Vincent Fournier’s ‘Brasilia’ series, prints from which form part of the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the LVMH Contemporary Art Foundation in Paris.

All photographs are C-prints on Ilford Fine Art Baryta with white border
All images courtesy The Ravestijn Gallery


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