The Enigma of 1444

I came across a fence that acquired an emblematic significance in my memory. It was a perfectly designed and executed artifact: a brightly painted, welded iron fence with a gate attached to concrete pillars and short walls. The house that it was supposed to enclose, however, had not yet been built, nor was there any indication that it would be. The green artifact stood alone, devoid of function other than its presence: it could only be interpreted in aesthetic terms. Indeed this object epitomized how the mannerisms of modernism still inform the production of vernacular cultural formations. The decision making processes involved in the construction of this fence seem to reify the kind of aesthetic speculation that geometric artists of South America often employ in their art practice.

Although modern in its elements, the shapes resembled what I encountered on numerous occasions in the forest: the repetitive pattern of parallel lines along diagonal axes of palm branches that either reflect light or filter it, creating rhythmic and almost perfect geometric screens. Was this object explicitly designed as an ornamental recreation of palms?

Considering the role of art for the Caduveo tribe of Mato Grosso, Claude Lévi-Strauss states: "In the first place, facial paintings confer dignity on the individual; they ensure the transition from nature to culture… Next, since they vary in style and pattern according to caste, they express differences in status within a complex society. This means that they have a sociological function." (Claude Lévi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques, 1955) Could it be that vernacular ornaments in the façade of Brazilian houses too serve a double function? Representing an idealized version of nature while constructing an emblem of "the modern" as indicative of social status?

I will never know what went into the making of the enigmatic fence at address 1444. I do know that, so carefully executed, it appeared infinitely more relevant than the eventual house that it might one day guard.