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His perched workshop
in Nova Viçosa 

Capture d’écran 2020-01-23 à

House - Frans Krajcberg's studio, Nova Viçosa, Brazil. Photo by Tim Carroll.

Frans Krajcberg lived in a house-workshop in Nova Viçosa, Brazil. It was built on top of the branch of a huge tree. He had this idea after long discussions with his architect friend, José Zanine Caldas, another visionary nomad whose favorite material was also wood. 


The story of his house is the story of the realisation of a dream for the artist. It all began in 1967, when a friend offered him the enormous trunk of a thousand-year-old tree, called "pequi" which had been cut down. This was not an ordinary tree, it was the king of the Amazon rainforest. Frans Krajcberg was amazed. He did not leave with the whole tree, but only with one of its branches. It was so big, it measured 2.60 meters in diameter and weighed 40 tons and it was a real challenge, to carry and install it, and to build his house on top of it… 10 meters above the ground ! 


Living perched in the trees like a bird, hanging between sky and earth, was for Krajcberg a way of being in harmony with nature. As if his house-workshop had always existed, it fitted in the environment. It was surrounded by a veranda, airy and bright. Inside, Krajcberg lined several walls with leaves he had collected during his walks. Walls were like the painter's canvas, camouflage wallpapers ! 


As his friend Thérèse Vian said in 2003, when she was preparing the exhibition “Art et Révolte”  at the Montparnasse Museum, “For Krajcberg, this house matches with the importance he attaches to nature and the place it will have in his artistic work and his existential approach.” 


It was necessary for him to combine architecture and art, and to create a house like a large sculpture, alive and livable. The plastic unity could be seen as a real installation, in the sense of a well done and accomplished work. It would be the total integration of the forms of nature, fundamental in the work of the artist. In perfect harmony between verticality and horizontality, he knew how to keep the links between sky and earth intact. 


Krajcberg worked on the project of a house hanging on a tree which could give him extraordinary lighting and fulfill his old dream: to feel suspended between earth and sky. And thus proceed to returning to primitive life. He wanted the house to be connected to its environment, without distorting or violating what was surrounding it, as if it had always existed.   He was fascinated by the idea of bringing together the four elements: the earth, at the foot of the tree, acts as the prime image of mother earth, fertile and reassuring; the air, subtle element circulating all around, is the active and male principle; the waters of the sea and those of the Mango symbolize "materia prima". They come from the sky to fertilize earth. Finally, fire, encountered in all initiation rituals of transformation, represents the death and rebirth of all lives (mineral, vegetable, animal or human ).  ​


At that time José Zanini Caldas and Frans Krajcberg, each in their own way, became aware of local reality. As Marie-Odile Briot, curator of the “Modernidade” exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris in 1987 underlined: “Each embodies, one architecture, the other sculpture, the most complete expression of this material, (wood) in the same aesthetic: the rejection of the “technocratic” uniformity of the International Style as the only expression of modernity. They oppose to this universal leveling of imagination, an invention of forms from local materials. The anchoring of modernity in the material and in the active memory, is similar to the sensitivity of Tropicalism that wins over the arts ”.  ​


"Tropicalia" by Helio Oiticica dates from 1967. It represents for him one of the first attempts in Brazil of objective awareness, in order to impose a typically Brazilian image in the avant-garde context of the time. Frans Krajcberg also reconnects with an aspect of modernism: Pau Brasil / Bois Brésil by Oswald de Andrade, written in 1924.  

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