Tree House Retreat Made of Repurposed Materials

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By Rob Colvin
An artist crafts a sustainable tree house in the Puerto Rican tropics as an inventive take on the exhibition space.

Radamés Figueroa, who goes by "Juni," is an artist who set aside his brushes to live in the trees. Trained as a painter and now working with constructed environments, he seeks to express what living in the tropics of Puerto Rico—where he was born and where he now makes his art—is like, at least in its ideal form. "Tree House–Casa Club" (2013) is the result of the artist's collaborative efforts in the Naguabo forest, where he and his friends built a tree house from raw materials found by the artist in San Juan over the course of nine months, and from readily available materials in the forest, such as stones and water for cement mix. Part desire, part necessity, Figueroa created this habitat to express his experiences and his relaxed-life aesthetic, and do so in a country where too few exhibition spaces for artists exist. 

Figueroa grew up using what he calls "tropical readymades"—riffing on Duchamp's found object art—by turning his shoes and footballs into planters. With this spirit, he took his tree house concept and planted it, at least a suitable form of it, in the courtyard of the Whitney Museum of American Art as part of the 2014 Whitney Biennial. "Breaking the Ice" (2014), made of wood, electric heaters, neon, plexiglass, windows, clothes, printed fabric, a table and Marcel Breuer Cesca chairs, the artist offered museum-goers a chance to "get away from it all" by going on in.

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Radamés “Juni” Figueroa lived in his art project tree house, made from found materials, for two fortnights, as part of his artist residency at La Practica at Beta-Local. "The Practice" is an interdisciplinary program of research and production focusing on art, architecture, and design, with an emphasis on collaboration.

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The tree house is built around a tree, which also serves as a support for the laddered entrance.

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A circular window is placed in the tree house's partial wall to further enhance the structure's relationship with its tropical surroundings.

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The artist's iteration of the club for the Whitney Biennial this spring echoes the courtyard's geometry, but defies its austerity with a bohemian interior. The words "break the ice" glow in neon. A table with refreshments is flanked by Marcel Breuer Cesca chairs.

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Vents on the side let in light and cool air, also providing a place to let clothes hang to dry. Plexiglass skylights are surrounded by potted plants, a few of which grow in the artist's "readymade" planters—constructed of a soccer ball and basketball.