The Surreal Gardener: Edward James & Las Pozas (Part 2)

“If I’m a surrealist,” mused Edward, “it’s not because I got linked with the movement, it’s because I was born one. A great number of people are surrealists without ever having heard of the movement. They are people who are close to their subconscious, for whom the world is not always logical all the time. They are innately illogical-logical and they make the world more vivid than life, in the way that dreams can be more vivid than actuality.”

At Las Pozas, Edward transformed the Mexican jungle into something even more vivid than it was before. Amazingly, he achieved it using not much more than reinforced concrete, labour and time.

The result is a blended, non-linear landscape. It’s a place where skeletal palaces created from concrete sway mirror-like in the shadows of neighbouring bamboos. Stairways in three-storey wall-less castles lead to the upper tree canopy, and give rise to incredible views on a self-contained world. The passage of time has let moss and lichen in to colour each surface, so that Edward’s sculptures at times seem capable of some kind of hybrid photosynthesis. Dense layers of light and humidity have softened hard forms which, in their state of semi-ruin, resemble more and more the waiting jungle around them.

Edward took inspiration from many sources to create Las Pozas. He would stroll through his terraced wilderness with pen and paper in hand – and a macaw on his shoulder – sketching the designs for towers, fleur-de-lis bridges and five-metre high still-life orchids.

Master carpenter, José Aguilar, interpreted the sketches, and from them constructed pine wood moulds that made tangible Edward’s visions of paradise. At other times Edward sent Plutarco postcards from abroad, filled with illustrated details or giant forms and one clear message: to re-create them within Las Pozas. Somehow, the craftsmen always understood Edward’s intent and brought his thin drawings to life.

Walking through Las Pozas you can feel the pulse of Edward’s creativity still beating. You can swim in freshwater pools, with waterfalls plummeting overhead. You can feel the jungle and the heavy air, which are perhaps the strongest forces at play in Las Pozas, creeping back in year by year to make ruins of Edward’s ruins and to reinstate nature as the true surrealist king. In fact, the ongoing maintenance of Las Pozas has always been a special kind of riddle. Should the ruin be left to its own devices, or actively preserved?

Edward wholly funded the project during his lifetime, sometimes from the sale of a Dali or Magritte, but the property was legally in Plutarco’s name. When Edward died in 1984 Plutarco, who by this time was married and had four children, was left with the remains of a great, unfinished dream – and its ongoing, costly upkeep. In 2007 a charity, Fondo Xilitla, stepped in to operate Las Pozas and to undertake conservation work, funded by the philanthropic wings of a major Mexican bank, government and a worldwide cement and infrastructure company.

There is undoubtable value in protecting Las Pozas and all its otherworldly glory. But perhaps there’s something equally joyous, and even surreal, in observing the natural attack of the jungle on its man-made forms.

Xilitla is a place where everything grows. Here locals cut the branches from a tree to make a fence, and the fence of its own accord becomes a forest. Edward’s sculptures are thickly covered in growth and perhaps one day will be pulled back into the jungle despite best-laid plans. Don Eduardo – surrealist gardener – would almost certainly take pleasure in that.

To read Part 1, click here.