Edward James’ fantasy stands tall in a jungle in Mexico
The House With a Roof like a Whale, the House With Three Stories That Might be Five, the Temple of the Ducks, the House Destined To Be a Cinema. A madman’s delusion? No, they are just a few names of the structures you’ll find in the surrealist paradise Las Pozas, hidden in the deepest jungle of the Huasteca Potosina.
Perhaps all big dreams begin with smaller ones. Edward James came to las Pozas (the Pools) dreaming of creating an orchid garden and taking care of his exotic animals. When thousands of his precious flowers died during a frost, he decided to recoup in concrete. His new mission was to build a city of flowers that no frost would ever hurt again.
Edward James was an eccentric Englishman and allegedly the grandson of king Edward VII. While still in Europe, he enjoyed the life of an art patron and befriended Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte, all the twentieth century avant-garde artists. When he arrived in Mexico, the country enchanted him. It was everything that England wasn’t: no critical and snobby society, no upper-class inhibitions and most of all – a climate perfect to grow plants and animals. The place he decided to settle down was Xilitla, San Luis Potosi.
He came to live there with his friend Plutarco Gastelum, half Indian – half Spanish, his wife and family. From 1962 to 1984 the pair created a “swirling dream in concrete”, that included thirty-six significant structures and countless other sculptures. Edward died before the garden was completed, but “he had always felt that an unfinished state was its destiny.”
Las Pozas is a surrealistic garden filled with fantastical, unfinished buildings and columns that don’t hold anything up, gigantic flowers and leaves you could walk on, paths that beckon you to all directions, sometimes to gates that lead not to another passageways, but to the jungle (or to the visitor’s subconscious). You walk up spiraling stairs that wind up and down and suddenly disappear. Everywhere you look orchid, pumpkin, serpent and dolphin shapes. Bamboo-like columns, so delicate that they quiver when a bird takes off from them. Ferns, lianas, thick tropical trees everywhere, all so intertwined with the concrete constructions that it’s impossible to tell where the jungle ends and where the inventions begin.
Is it an Eden, an artistic creation or a humongous, 30-acre joke…? Is it unfinished, ruined, or simply bizarre? Sir Edward James described his masterpiece:
“My house has wings, and somehow in the dead of the night, she sings…”.
They say the longer you stay in, the more the outside world fades away and you slowly become lost in the present. Nowadays, years after the creator’s death, due to the lack of funding, the jungle has begun to reconquer the place. Among the rusted corrugating steel and fences bent by fallen trees, it feels like a Sleeping Beauty castle “arrested in time before it was finished”. Its anarchy and unpredictability are the features that make this place what it is: a place of ruin and rebirth, full of magnificent energy which plays magic tricks on visitors.