Mikel Bergara


Mikel Bergara’s installation Savannah, 1995, consisted of four constructions resembling allegorical ruins, based on a group of log cabins that during the 17th century formed the original urban center of the American city that now bears this name. His project viewed the original log cabins as a model of utopian architecture that existed prior to the more familiar 18th-century projects of Étienne-Louis Boullée and Claude Nicolas Ledoux in Europe. By distributing what resembled scaffolding throughout the exhibition space, Bergara attempted to suggest the “ruins” of these cabins, rather than their intact structures.

The artist’s goal in this project was to envision a form of architecture capable of imitating nature without invading or assaulting it. The installation became a meditation on the ramifications of—and need for—a return to nature. Although there were no explicit references to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “noble savage,” the philosopher’s writings became an inevitable point of reference.

The visitors strolled between the walls of the rectangular structures, which resembled half-demolished houses—the after-effects of a disaster. Viewing these simulacra, not of intact buildings, but of houses in ruins, houses that have suffered wear and tear, left the viewer with a sense of alienation mixed with nostalgia for a return to a more natural state.

The installation required careful observation in order to distinguish each of the elements comprising it—for example, a number of boxes, most of them empty and arranged in no visible order. One of them, resting against the wall of one of the structures and containing an oval painting, went nearly unnoticed. Although at first glance it may have seemed insignificant, mere detritus, the painting contained much of the symbolism that was engaged by the project as a whole. This canvas presented an ironically idyllic view of nature, and its vulgar, golden oval frame contributed to the image’s inherent irony. The painting was one of the few “remains” left intact among the rubble, but the devastation to which the buildings had apparently been subjected introduced the possibility of their transformation. The most revealing parts of the show gestured toward landscapes by Caspar David Friedrich or J. M. Turner, although the installation as a whole represented a vision that was far more apocalyptic than Romantic.

Menene Gras Balaguer

Translated from the Spanish by Vincent Martin.