Melanie Smith, María Elena, 2018, HD video projection, color, sound, 24 minutes.

Melanie Smith

Galerie Peter Kilchmann

In 2014, Melanie Smith made a video work called Fordlandia, a study of the eponymous abandoned town in the Brazilian rain forest where Henry Ford had attempted to establish a vast rubber plantation in the 1920s. In spite of the enormous resources at Ford’s disposal and the best possible techniques of scientific management, the plantation proved a catastrophic failure and the rain forest slowly engulfed its ruins. Fordlandia was inevitably read as a parable about hubris, but it was as concerned with how to convey an atmosphere of heat, humidity, and lethargy as it was with colonial economics.

Smith’s exhibition “María Elena” was also titled after a company town. British engineers established María Elena in the high desert of northern Chile in the 1920s as a base for the mining of saltpeter for fertilizer and dynamite, and the Guggenheim family subsequently bought and owned it for some decades,

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