Cécile Desbaudard Discusses “Sitio” by Santiago Borja at The Villa Savoye

Sitio-Destinerrance by Santiago Borja

“Sitio” (Site) curated by Cécile Desbaudard is a site-specific art project created by Santiago Borja (born 1970, lives and works in Mexico City) for the Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye in Poissy, France. The exhibition that will be up through September the 25th consists of: Destinerrance, the superimposition of two palapas installed in the park, Tapis (a rug) conceived for the floor of the Villa’s living room and Cosmogonie Suspendue, a weaved ceiling piece for the terrace, meant to represent the Mayan cosmos.

CB: What does “Sitio” mean?

CD: “Sitio” is an spanish word which means “site” with the anthropological meaning, a symbolical place which reveals a lot of things about human people and their way of thinking the idea of habitability. It’s also a word that Roland Barthes uses in “Le Neutre” to define a place where we fell good.

CB: What motivated you to curate “Sitio”?

CD: When I discovered the project “Sitio” I immediately liked it! It was for me the beginning of a strong artistic and human experience… It is a so creative and original project which mixes history of art, architecture, anthropology and philosophy from a so opened point of view!

Sitio-Cosmogonie Suspendue by Santiago Borja

“Sitio” speaks about the multi-cultural connections, the concept of the survival of images of Aby Warburg, it shows links between the primitive and the modernist architecture but as well between Maya and Occidental knowledges. “Sitio” challenges us on the complexity of space and time with the Warbugian concept of ’’anachronistic contemporaneity’’ and the word of Jacques Derrida “Destinerrance” which is the title of the two superimposed palapas, it mixes two apparently opposite terms, destiny (“destin”) and wandering (“errance”)…  “Sitio” questions the reality and the way we’re related to it but without giving answer, I love this way of thinking.   

CB: How did artist Santiago Borja’s work come to your attention?

CD: I discovered his work at the end of the year 2009 when I was preparing a curator’s contest I thought it’s so fascinating the way he conceives architecture as a sort of ready-made with which he creates a new site by adding architectural objects around and inside the original structure…   

CB: Can you tell us about the two palapas and the intention of the artist to place them on the grounds of Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye?

CD: As Santiago said, there were conscious and unconscious motivations in this idea but the main one was to confront the Villa Savoye with a form of primitive architecture in order to reveal survivals of primitivism which exist in it. Santiago explains that we often speak about the links between painting and primitivism, about Picasso for example, but we don’t  talk  about it in architecture however it appears in this field too. To superimpose two palapas in opposite direction with a hole in the center was as well a way to evoke the Hadrian’s Pantheon in Roma which is a building of reference for Le Corbusier as for Santiago Borja, another way to include the “anachronistic  contemporaneity” but also to propose an original architectural object based on the concept of the palapa.  

CB : How does the work evoke Hadrian’s Pantheon?

Hadrian said, “The cupola…revealed the sky through a great hole at the center, showing alternately dark and blue. This temple, both open and mysteriously enclosed was conceived as a solar quadrant. The hours would make their round on that caissoned ceiling so carefully polished by Greek artisans; the disk of daylight would rest suspended there like a shield of gold”

Pantheon Cupola-interior view

CD : As in the cupola of the Hadrian’s Pantheon, in “Destinerrance”, there is hole in the center of the superior part of the architecture that allows the natural light to penetrate inside the inferior palapa and to play with the squaring created by the weaving of the palm tree’s sheets. This squaring evokes the one of the Hadrien Pantheon’s sundial.

CB: Can you tell us a little bit about the Villa Savoye?

CD: The Villa Savoye was built from 1928 to 1931. It was an order from Pierre and Eugénie  Savoye, who wanted to have a weekend home in Poissy, to the workshop of Le Corbusier and Pierre-André Jeanneret. The Villa Savoye is considered as the chef-d’oeuvre of Le Corbusier using for the first time his theory of the Five Points of the Modern Architecture (stilts, roof-gardens, open-plan, free-floating facade, horizontal window) illustrating  the capacity for a house, thanks to the  reinforced concrete and the stilts, to have a free floating facade with horizontal windows all around (the Villa Savoye is also called “Les heures claires” – The clear hours – because inside, thanks to the windows, the natural light is everywhere). The Villa Savoye was classified french historic building in 1965. It is now considered as an icon of the modernist architecture. 

Sitio-Destinerrance by Santiago Borja-interior view

With “Sitio”, Santiago Borja wants to isolate the Villa Savoye temporarily from this statute a temporal and deterritorialized to reactualize its original function – a “habitat” – and the survival of primitivism which compose part of its identity.

CB: Can you talk about the adaptation of ancient Mayan building techniques and how they are considered in Borja’s work.

CD: Santiago Borja is very interested by the traditional Mayan craft industry of building and weaving because it reveals some primitive ways of thinking the concept of habitability which is here related and closed to the local environment (wood, sheets of palm tree, natural dyeing, wool…). And he knows that most of this knowledge is threatened to disappear, using them in his works is a way to help safeguard them.

For the work “Destinerrance”, Santiago Borja worked with Maya manufacturers who know and control the traditional methods of the palapa’s – the “palaperos” – building made of tropical wood and leaves from the Chiit palm from the Yucatán. They worked in Carillo Puerto, Quintana Roo (Mexico) to create a prototype of “Destinerrance” and then they came in France, for two weeks they built the real one with the imported materials from Mexico, in the park of the Villa Savoye. Of course the way they create a palapa doesn’t correspond to the French safety standards, they don’t wear any protection and they don’t use scaffolding until the end of the construction, once the framework is installed, they climb directly inside to weave the sheets of palm trees. It was very important for “Sitio” to let the palaperos work as they’re used to.

They’re accustomed to live in traditional palapas whith a closed roof, so when they learned that for the exhibition there will be two palapas superimposed with a hole in the center which allows to see the sky they said : “with this sort of palapa we’ll look at the stars.“

CB: Can you tell us about how partnerships operate and how they relate to the overall concept of the exhibition?

CD: We began by proposing our project to the Villa Savoye – Centre des monuments nationaux, when they told us they would like to allow “Sitio” to take place in the Villa Savoye if we found the financial support, we began to search support in France, Mexico and USA to several institutions and Foundations. We had a lot of chance, the Conseil Général des Yvelines (France) decided to integrate “Sitio” with its event « Balades en Yvelines », so they gave us financial and communication supports related to this event, the Fundaciòn/Colecciòn Jumex (Mexico) and the Graham Foundation (USA), which already knew and supported Santiago Borja’s work, decided to select “Sitio” for a grant. 

CB: We now have a history of aesthetic colonialism, can you tell us how this comments on or deviates from that?

CD: Of course “Sitio” talks about that. The exhibition allows the direct confrontation of an architectural object based on the palapa, the ancient Maya building, with what it is considered as an icon of the occidental modernist architecture, the Villa Savoye. 

It’s a way to restore a balance between Mexican and Occidental cultures, to remind us of the fact that cultures are porous, there are constantly processes of cultural assimilations and influences between the countries, what Serge Gruzinski calls the “pensée métisse” mongrel tought .  “Sitio” proposes a dialogue between two concepts of the architecture and the habitability and challenges us about their connections.

CB: Is there anything else you want to talk about?

CD: I’d like to thank Santiago Borja for the creation of this so beautiful project and for his confidence in me, I’d like as well to thank all the people who worked on “Sitio” for the works “Destinerrance”, “Cosmogonie suspendue” and “Tapis” with all their energy and knowledge : José Rodolfo Canche Caamal, José Marcos Canche Caamal, Fermin Espinosa, Tatiana Guerra, Jerónimo Hernández, Josefina Lazo, Antelmo Ortiz, Juan Carlos Pavón, Javier Poot Dzib, Joselo Vargas and William Zelayeta. 

June 12- September 25, 2011
Villa Savoye
82 rue de Villiers – 78300 Poissy, France
01 39 65 01 06

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China Blue is an internationally exhibiting artist and the Founding Director of The Engine Institute. She is the recipient of a 2012 RISCA Fellowship in New Genres and her exhibition "Firefly Trees" was nominated for 2012 Best Monographic Museum Show Nationally by the International Association of Art Critics.Her in depth worked in sound was what drove her to be the first person to record the Eiffel Tower in Paris and through a NASA/Rhode Island Space Grant she was invited to do a pilot studyto record nature in an innovative way.She has shown her works in museums, galleries and non-profit institutions for over 20 years.Her work has been widely covered in web, television and print media including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and NPR.
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China Blue is an internationally exhibiting artist and the Founding Director of The Engine Institute. She is the recipient of a 2012 RISCA Fellowship in New Genres and her exhibition "Firefly Trees" was nominated for 2012 Best Monographic Museum Show Nationally by the International Association of Art Critics. Her in depth worked in sound was what drove her to be the first person to record the Eiffel Tower in Paris and through a NASA/Rhode Island Space Grant she was invited to do a pilot study to record nature in an innovative way. She has shown her works in museums, galleries and non-profit institutions for over 20 years. Her work has been widely covered in web, television and print media including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and NPR.
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