From the Archives

From the Archives – Post-Fordlândia: A Critical Look at a Failed Development

Today we bring you a look back at the videos and photographs of Tom Flanagan and Megs Morley, whose project Post-Fordlândia explored the famous village created by Henry Ford in 1928. Author Tori Bush draws parallels between this forsaken 20th-century urban planning project in the Amazon and its counterpart in present-day New Orleans. This article was originally published on September 6, 2012.

Megs Morley & Tom Flanagan. Interior American Village Fordlândia, 2011; Lamda print; 20 x 31 in.

Post-Fordlândia, the new exhibit at Good Children Gallery in New Orleans, is a palimpsest for modern times: It calls from faded pasts to warn us of an ill-advised future. A series of high-definition videos and large-format photographs by Irish artists Tom Flanagan and Megs Morley depict the now-defunct and abandoned town of Fordlândia, the mad brainchild of Henry Ford. This experiment in urban and cultural planning was built in 1928 in the Amazon jungle of Brazil in order to supply rubber to the Ford production plants in the United States. Riots and unrest left Fordlândia a barren, post-apocalyptic wasteland, and Flanagan and Morley’s photographs document the disaster.

Megs Morley & Tom Flanagan. Plantation Factory, Fordlândia, 2011; Lamda print; 20 x 29 in.

Post-Fordlândia is a small exhibit, made up of five photographs and two videos. The rich lushness of the high-definition shots make the videos the tours de force of this show. Morley cites as an influence French philosopher Jacques Rancière and his ideas of documentary film as a form of fiction. In the video Fordlândia, the ephemeral space lulls the viewer into a hypnotized fascination; imagined stories of the place and its inhabitants grow in the mind as the film progresses. Morley and Flanagan layer present-day images and experiences over each other to reveal lost moments in time. As Peter Schedjahl pointed out recently, “Nothing spoils faster than the future.”[1] In this case, the past and the future seem to intermingle with uncomfortable ease.

Megs Morley & Tom Flanagan. House, American Village, Fordlândia, 2011; Lamda print; 20 x 29 in.

When placed in the context of New Orleans, the images of an abandoned Americana are imbued with an ominous significance. Flanagan and Morley are collaborative artists working with Gallery 126, an artist-run co-op based in Galway, Ireland. Malcolm McClay, a founding member of Good Children, is a native of Ireland and worked with Gallery 126 to bring these artists to New Orleans. He pointed out, “When I saw this exhibition in Galway I assumed Post-Fordlândia was Central or South America, yet when it opened at Good Children almost everyone asked me if it was New Orleans. It is a great reminder of how context profoundly affects the audience’s interpretation.”[2]

As New Orleans enters a new phase in its history, one of redevelopment rather than recovery, Post-Fordlândia reminds audiences that top-down cultural and urban planning are defunct practices. As large swaths of New Orleans are being knocked down to build hospitals and housing developments, one can clearly see the inherent instability of large-scale redevelopment. What happens to the culture that is lost during rebuilding? Will institutionally developed neighborhoods be adopted and provide cultural continuity or will Cabrini-Green-esque futures ensue? When 265 homes in Lower Mid-City are razed through the eminent domain of the state to build a private hospital, the owners are the unfortunate subjects of this experiment.

By deciphering the lost history of Fordlândia, Morley and Flanagan present an alternative strategy, one of criticism and skepticism regarding urban development. Long, poetic shots of Fordlândia’s empty factories and residences underscore not only the economic loss suffered by Ford (over twenty million dollars were lost by the Ford family when Fordlândia was sold in 1945), but also the loss of a physical space for those native to the region. These long shots are painful reminders of not just a recently empty city, but also the impending changes in the fabric of New Orleans as it becomes a bigger, brighter, slightly more sterile version of itself.

[1] Peter Schjeldahl, The Art World, “Machine Dreams,” The New Yorker, August 6, 2012. Pg. 74.

[2] Malcolm McClay. Personal Interview. September 25, 2012.