AA VISITING SCHOOL AMAZON – The Magic Realism of Mamori LakeProfile

by Nacho Marti, Director of AAVS Amazon & Technical Studies Tutor

06 July 2015
Mamori Lake, Amazonia

 

There is a bit of Magic Realism in the origins of the AA Visiting School Amazonas. The story of how I discovered a place called Mamori Lake may sound a bit like the stories that Ed Bloom told his son Will in Tim Burton´s movie Big Fish, but everything is absolutely true. The events unfolded as follows and started on a summer in Barcelona more than a decade ago.

 

The photograph of Mamori Lake that initiated everything Image credit: Asier Gogortza, 2005

The photograph of Mamori Lake that initiated everything
Image credit: Asier Gogortza, 2005

My friend Marcos had saved some money working for a construction company, which he now wanted to invest in a parking space to rent out. One night, while we were having drinks together with two friends at a bar, he shared his intentions with us. His idea of buying a parking space sounded profitable but not very ethical, aesthetic or poetic but maybe because we were already several drinks down or because of the diverse group around the table (Marcos: a Humanities graduate, two photographers and myself, a designer), we humoured him. After some initial negative feedback, the conversation soon became a brainstorming session for creative alternatives to invest the money in a more socially aware and non-speculative way. Of course, none of the options we discussed were economically viable, realistic or pertinent and that discussion only proved that none of us possessed any business skills at all.

 

We quickly forgot that conversation and carried on with our lives but some weeks later Marcos shared some important news with us. He had bought a small piece of land with a lodge in the middle of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest through a website, probably propelled by our conversation on the bar’s terrace. Blinded by the originality of the investment, he decided to put his money on something diametrically opposed to a parking space, a piece of land on the Mamori lakeshore. Searching online for alternatives, he had found an Italian “businessman” that was selling plots of land through his website. The Italian, based in Manaus, claimed that the profitability of the investment was high, that the land was very fertile and suitable for sustainable tree farming and that everything was totally legal. It seemed the ideal investment that Marcos was looking for and so he proceeded. In less than a month, he became the owner of an 800 sqm plot in a remote corner of the Amazon rainforest called Mamori Lake, situated 65 kilometres south of Manaus – all for the price of a parking space in Barcelona.

What Marcos didn’t notice, maybe because of his excitement in the moment or his sometimes impetuous modus operandi, was that the Italian businessman, whose initials were G.C, could also be found on Google as an expert in tax-havens and other dodgy businesses. Also on Google, Marcos found that G.C´s business partner was killed a couple of years ago in his shared office in Manaus. It was then that Marcos began to get scared and started thinking that this whole thing might be a scam. Although he had received the property title and lawyers had managed the exchange of contracts, he began to believe that there was no Mamori Lake, no land and no lodge. Alarmed by his thoughts, Marcos decided it was time to go and visit his newly acquired property in Amazonia and meet Mr. G.C. However, his work and family commitments made that very difficult and the only option he could find was to send someone he trusted. And so he sent Jordi, his most trusted photographer friend that, together with me, had tried to persuade him to not buy the parking space that night at the bar.

 

Geraldo building Marcos´ lodge Image credit: Jordi Llorella, 2005

Geraldo building Marcos´ lodge
Image credit: Jordi Llorella, 2005

Jordi had recently gotten married and Marcos’ wedding present for the new couple was a flight to Manaus and a stay in the yet-to-be-built lodge. Of course, Jordi, a natural born globetrotter, was delighted with the present but nonetheless believed he would enjoy this trip more with a good friend instead of his new bride. And so Jordi invited his friend and fellow-photographer Asier to join him on his honeymoon. Asier was, in fact, the fourth person who had also advised Marcos against buying the parking space. This is how Jordi and Asier came to travel to Manaus to meet Mr. G.C., discovering Mamori Lake and then overseeing the construction of Marco´s lodge.

When Jordi and Asier came back home, Marcos was very pleased for two reasons; firstly because he had not been scammed and secondly because Mamori Lake was absolutely amazing. The pictures that the two photographers had taken perfectly captured the astonishing natural beauty of the place. They not only brought back pictures but also the idea of using the newly-built lodge as a base camp for a creative summer workshop. As soon as I saw their pictures and heard the idea, I knew I wanted to be involved. I thought I could organise design and architecture workshops while Jordi and Asier could organise photography and sound workshops. Acting quickly, we soon established an NGO called Mamori Art Lab, and worked very hard to make the workshops happen. We secured a grant from the Catalan government for 3 years that allows us to organise 10 different workshops over four years bringing more that 100 people from all over the world to discover the beauty of Mamori Lake while producing amazing creative work.

 

Exactly 10 years after Mamori Art Lab´s first workshop, I will be returning to Mamori Lake this August with the AA and 8 students from around the globe. We want to analyse how the recent arrival of electricity to Mamori Lake is changing the area, the local architecture and the way in which locals live. This August, if you feel like spending some time in Marcos’ lodge at Mamori Lake, there are still some places available.

 

Pedro is the father of our local guide Jerson.  Image credit: Asier Gogortza, 2009

Pedro is the father of our local guide Jerson.
Image credit: Asier Gogortza, 2009

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