Lina Bo Bardi Drawing: intimacy as active resistance

We spoke to curator Zeuler Rocha Lima about their exhibition at Fundació Joan Miró that re-explores Bo Bardi through the drawings of an entire lifetime.

A peculiar complexity has crystallized around Lina Bo Bardi,  in these decades following her death, her figure has been explored in all aspects and chronological phases, come to think of it. The complexity regarding architects moving their first steps in the realm of historiography is about creating effective narration of such figures, discovering unexplored areas but avoiding at the same time any risk of theoretical appropriation.

Lina Bo Bardi Drawing,
on show at Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona, follows the track of drawings as a way to access the relational and cultural system of a relevant figure of contemporary architecture, providing at the same time the public with both a physical and intellectual experience.

In a reference to Miró’s idea of constellation, curator Zeuler Rocha Lima — an architect, an artist and a researcher — has articulated the exhibition in four spaces, four themes singularly explored all through Bo Bardi’s chronology: plants (from her fist drawing aged nine, a dead tree, to a vertical garden for an unrealised building in Sao Paulo); people (to her, the real protagonists of architecture: not space, as Bruno Zevi may have preached. Bo Bardi’s drawings of  people are always animated, action is always present); seeing (from early editorial career in Italy to curatorial activity in Brasil); living (architecture, city, furniture: the body of people inhabits this section).

We spoke to Rocha Lima about reading Bo Bardi's approach through drawings.

lina bo bardi drawing domus

The most interesting feature of the exhibition is the operation it performs, of an archival exploration of an intimacy. And consequently, the new narration that can be made of an eminent architectural figure, such as Lina Bo Bardi, through her intimate attitude to space, nature, society. How did the idea of such approach take shape?

In fall 2017, I was contacted by Fundació Joan Miró to plan an exhibition on Lina Bo Bardi, as I had just completed one in Los Angeles after studying — on a Getty research grant — the connection between her and Albert Frey.

The idea of narrating Bo Bardi through drawings came from considering the mission of Fundació Miró as an art museum, and this idea obtained a curatorial carte blanche. I could therefore team up USA (Princeton University Press), Spain (the Foundation) and Brasil (LBB archives): a selection of 400, then 100 drawings was made,  and it was decided to create two different publications from the project: a catalogue and a peer-reviewed book.

Lina Bo Bardi’s drawings are idiosyncratic, not specifically targeting the realm of  architectural design, or art. It is impossible to find a general logical framework, so the idea was to show the great diversity of themes, and to cover at the same time the entire chronology of the architect’s life.

The first drawing at the entrance, from 1957, operates a powerful synthesis in this sense: when she discovered Barcelona with her husband, she was fascinated by Gaudì’s approach to nature, from she drew a peculiar attention to plants, minerals, insects: she would successively design Valeria Cirell’s house as a response to Bruno Zevi in their debate on organic architecture.

Scaffoldings and curtains for installation refer to her works for theaters, and a general idea of a choreography of space animates the curatorial concept; a bespoke soundscape  integrates such concept, bringing sounds of people, nature, street from Barcelona — its culture in the end — into the exhibition.

lina bo bardi drawing domus
The house for Valéria Cirell

By exploring and selecting drawings, something new could be learned in this trajectory of  intimacy?

I got to an interpretation of Bo Bardi’s intimacy as a resistance to the general spectacularization, to the rise of a star system she was witnessing, mostly in the second half of 20th century. Thinking of the  drawing she made for her husband as she was about to die, of the drawing making jokes of brother- in-law as a giraffe, I don’t see any naiveté, but an active resistance instead; something I recognise in her last drawings being very phenomenological indeed.

In such spirit, the exhibition is therefore an invitation addressing all senses (eucalyptus branches, something she used a lot, were left at the opening section): the body, as interpreted by Merleau-Ponty, is the center of it all, and the space of Fundació Miró perfectly fulfils such approach, Modern and white as it is, still domestic and paved with terracotta.

Does the research on drawings cast some new light on the connection between Bo Bardi’s intimacy and the ideologies she lived across?

Her principles were to give value to a continuity, an exchange between intimate space and public space. A principle she brought from Italy, of political in the sense of polis, as she later articulated in the SESC Pompeia project.

Her political trajectory was evolutionary, she was no dogmatic person: she finally reached a maturity, an even political wisdom. The affirmation of her left-wing positioning came out during the 60s in Brazil, with the rise of dictatorship, as a memory of the consciousness developed during Italian fascism. She positioned herself as a Communist also to stay connected to the context of radical Brazilian intellectuals.

Polis: the SESC Pompeia

Can we draw some element of Bo Bardi’s vision and interpretation of nature through her drawings?

Without entering the depth of her personal turmoil (on which we fortunately  have no detail nor documentation), and considering the difference between nature as considered in the 50s and today,  two aspect can be seen merging in LBB’s nature: a professional one, and a personal one.

The first was her personal engagement in mediating between rationalism and domestic aspects of architecture, of answering to Bruno Zevi in their debate on organic architecture. The discovery of Gaudì, her reaction to Frank Lloyd Wright’s principles, drove her  towards a figurative approach to nature. That was her way to get to an organic architecture.  A bucolic vision, something rather agricultural than actually wild, made of plants, insects and so on, as a reaction to the stiffness of rationalist visions.

The second aspect was the base for the first: the vision of nature as the nature of countryside was rooted in Bo Bardi’s childhood were she could find — in opposition to Rome where she grew up — a  realm for dreaming. Bo Bardi’s personal nature is a romantic, beautiful and sweet world, the countryside halfway between the city and the wilderness. The Wild itself, in her drawings, is something controlled, theatrical, domesticated: some kind of a pet, in the end.

Lina Bo Bardi Drawing is an anti–black mirror exhibition, an exhibition for the whole body, for the chair du monde (as for Merleau-Ponty): all senses are present and the exhibition invites to a connection to reality through senses and experience.

I see this also as a direct connection to the presence of the oeuvres of Joan Miró: drawing, in the end, is observing, observing relationships, and this is an exhibition investigating and showing relationships and their depth.

Lina Bo Bardi Drawing
Curated by:
Zeuler Rocha Lima
Fundació Joan Miró
Parc de Montjuïc, 08038 Barcelona
Opening dates:
until May 26, 2019
Lina Bo Bardi Drawing. Co-edition published by Fundació Joan Miró and Princeton University Press

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