Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


A FASCINATING exhibition Fordlandia is taking place through December 10, 2016, at the Fashion Space Gallery of London College of Fashion in London’s West End. It showcases the work of Studio Swine, Japanese architect Azusa Murakami and British artist Alexander Groves, a design duo with a growing international reputation. Studio Swine’s Fordlandia evolves from Henry Ford’s unsuccessful transplanting of American midwest values into the 1930s’ rain forest of Brazil.


Catalog for Studio Swine’s Fordlandia, published by the Fashion Space Gallery and Centre for Fashion Curation, London College of Fashion, 2016.

The exhibition’s topics include the all but abandoned Fordlandia site, its natural rubber resources now transformed into art and industrial applications, Studio Swine’s own recycling of São Paolo waste into artful furnishings, Bossa Nova and its influences around the world, Disney’s Jungle Cruise, even a reference to computer flight simulation and SimanaitisSays.

Studio Swine grew out of a friendship, then an artistic collaboration of its two principals. Alexander Groves says they came up with the name after reflecting that pigs are seen as disgusting, yet they find truffles. Swine also stands for Super Wide Interdisciplinary New Explorers. As Groves notes, “Basically, we don’t really think about disciplines when we’re making work. We don’t think: ‘Is this art? Is this design? Is this architecture?’ ”

Their residence in São Paulo introduced them to Brazilian catadores, waste pickers working the streets in search of cardboard, aluminum cans and other stuff for resale. Out of this grew Studio Swine’s Can City Project and its São Paulo Collection of furniture.


São Paulo Collection, 2013. This and the following images from the Studio Swine “Fordlandia” catalog.

The duo collected aluminum cans, built a furnace fueled by waste vegetable oil discarded from fried-food stalls, and recycled the aluminum into high-style furnishings. Said Azusa Murakami of their Can City Project, “It’s a total portrait of the place, and it’s got a regional identity.”

“Beauty isn’t just what you see,” said Groves, “It’s also what you know. Design has an ecological context.”

And so it is with the Amazon’s rubber. Tapping the latex is a rain forest-sustainable process with applications beyond traditional ones. Ebonite, for example, is a hardened rubber that’s undergone additional vulcanization. The material, Studio Swine says, “has the hardness of teak and can be processed like wood… We could revisit the dynamic forms of Tropical Modernist furniture with a sustainable forest product rather than endangered hardwoods.”


A chair of ebonite.

Natural rubber comes from the sap of the Pará tree, Hevea brasiliensis, its scientific name identifying the tree’s Brazilian origins. Until 1876, the latex produced from the sap was known as Amazon Gold.

Then English explorer Henry Wickham and Scottish botanist Robert Cross smuggled 70,000 Pará seeds out of Brazil. Some 2500 of the seeds germinated and subsequent seedlings were sent to Singapore, where botanist Henry Ridley (aka Mad Ridley) persuaded Malaysian farmers to establish rubber plantations.


A bit of Henry Ford’s midwest America, translated to the Amazon.

The Brazilian rubber market lay largely dormant until Henry Ford established Fordlandia in 1928. As noted in the Studio Swine catalog, “Fordlandia struggled as a Sisyphean undertaking: there were difficulties with logistics, disease and site access, and there were clashes between Western and indigenous lifestyles…. These issues, coupled with the discovery of synthetic rubber in 1945, contributed to the end of Ford’s experiment in rubber production in Brazil.”

For more details, see ”Henry Ford’s Amazon Adventure,” here at SimanaitisSays.


This Microsoft Flight Simulator view of a Ford Tri-Motor buzzing Fordlandia displays add-on scenery devised by flight simmers of the Ford Tri-Motor Project Team.

Not that synthetic rubber has completely supplanted the natural variety. The catalog’s “A Rubber Tapper’s Day” notes that “Eighty percent of a high-performance Formula 1 tyre and the same percentage of an aircraft tyre are natural rubber.” This, because of its inherent toughness.

Other sustainable local resources include the pirarucu, the largest freshwater fish in the world, known as bacalhau da Amazonia, Amazon cod.


An adult pirarucu can reach 10 feet in length. This one is a youngster.

Pirarucu flesh is cod-like and edible. Its skin makes a fine leather; its armored scales are used for nail files; its tongue, dried and used as a grater.

In 1943, Walt Disney visited Fordlandia in making The Amazon Awakes, a film funded by the U.S. Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs. According to the catalog, the design of Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise was influenced by his experience.

The catalog concludes with “Music as Utopia and Dystopia,” by music journalist Karol Vesleý. The essay is subtitled “Bossa Nova, Motown and Techno in the Shadow of Fordlandia.”

Briefly, as Karol Vesleý observes, “Born in the second half of the 1950s in Brazil, bossa nova became the soundtrack for the era of President Juscelino Kubitschek, whose modernisation of the country involved ideals that were not far from being utopian.”


Each of these three pop genres, Bossa Nova, Motown and Techno, is worth an item of its own. And isn’t it a fine exhibition catalog that does more than explain the exhibit, it encourages other avenues to explore. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2016


  1. Bob DuBois
    October 17, 2016

    I read “Fordlandia” several years ago. It was quite a damning story of Henry Ford’s attempt to impose his idea of an American city and manufacturing plant in the middle of the Brazilian forest.

  2. alexander groves
    October 25, 2016

    Thank you for the great feature Dennis!

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