A tree will dominate this year’s ABC and Cultural ABC stand at ARC. A tree of almost three tons that bears the title “The Silent Witness” and that has been carved out of newspaper by Miler Lagos (Bogotá, 1973), an artist who uses this material – in his large tree pieces, or in series such as “The Rings of Time” – to illustrate our role in nature and reference how we record our passage through the world.
He began studying engineering before moving on to Fine Arts. What made you change?
At first, what I planned to do in my life was to be an inventor. I grew up in a family of engineers, my father is, and that brought me closer to mechanics. I went to study mechanical engineering and did almost the entire career, but I realized that I was more focused on maintenance of the industry than on the development of technology and that brought me a great depression. And I decided to introduce myself to Fine Arts.
A drastic decision.
It was a very strong blow for the family, especially for my father. That was the end for him. But then I found fascination in my work, because there was a lot of engineering behind the processes. And after a few years he also became part of my team. Thank God, I’ve always been surrounded by people with a lot of devotion towards helping me and understanding what I do. I have met other artists: Andrés Valles, Fredy Forero and others who have accompanied me to do this project for ABC; but, on the other hand, there is my family: my wife, my daughters, my brothers, everyone ends up involved in these processes that are very handmade. The pieces of small formats we control them easily, but in the large-scale ones, with trees of fourteen tons, my father enters to do calculations of resistance and structure.
Was it that engineer’s look that led him to devote himself to sculpture specifically?
That idea of creating, of engineering things, I think he moved to try to understand how they work. And that is what results in this kind of visual solutions that, in some way, answer questions and make me understand a little the nature in which we are immersed.
Does it also arise that you focus so much on the materials? Especially paper and wood.
I have used many other materials: concrete, plastic, in ARCO I will also exhibit pieces made with cotton paper and epoxy resin. I have that intention of letting the materials speak within the devices I make.
The rest of the works he is going to present are based on newspaper. When did you start using it? What appeals to him?
There are things that are intuitive. When I did Fine Arts I focused a lot on sculpture, but I also did absolutely all the engraving and graphic courses. One day, I saw a publication about Leonardo Da Vinci’s war machines. The company that printed the images requested the files from the Vatican and sent them the scanned documents in the state they are in today, with fractures, missing parts and had a very yellowish, dull, aged color. But, seeing them printed in a new book, with immaculate white paper, that contrast between white and ocher made me think for more than 500 years, on how that image has remained alive by jumping from one paper to another, to another, to another … I wondered how many sheets would have been used until that moment to reach me, in Bogotá, a book with images of Leonardo. And I thought that if I had the possibility of collecting all those leaves and accumulating them in volume, it would be a column of immense dimensions. And what could I do with that cube, that volume. So I dedicated myself to copy in offset several of these machines and took a polisher to remove the white parts and leave the ocher color. In principle, I imagined that Leonardo’s scenes (abbeys, fortifications) were going to look like stones with cracks, but in the process of carving that paper began to burn from friction, generating a brown color. And it smelled a bit of wood. It was obvious that the essence of the tree is kept on paper. I immediately opened a number of plans, because that tree – there in the forest, or wherever it is – is also a silent witness.
Hence the title that bears the main piece of ABC.
Yes. The tree records everything that happens in its environment. In addition, it lasts several generations and can see substantial changes that we, in our entire life cycle, cannot witness. I began to think of that tree as a natural filing cabinet, which was then transformed into raw material to produce paper, whose function in our culture was to consign and sustain our passage through reality, from birth to the day of our death. That tree not only moved into our world because of its physical qualities, but it was also transported in essence, in spirit.
If I have no misunderstanding, the trees it creates are not just any trees, but Amazonian ceibas.
Yes, the large pieces (like the one we are going to have in the ABC space in ARCO) have very long roots, like ailerons. That is a typical form of many trees in the rainforest, but the ceiba tree is the one that develops it most. It is a tree that native tribes do not dare to cut, but create a whole mysticism around it. I traveled to the Amazon to see the roots of these trees and it was like seeing a UFO, or an extraterrestrial, because they leave the format of the rest of the trees, they are like huge walls. What my work team and I have tried to form with large accumulations of printed newspapers is an evocation of the roots of that ceiba tree.
How do you decide which newspaper sheets you use?
In the series of « The rings of time»(Which are« collages »with overlapping of the same page) there is a choice, on the one hand, aesthetic (colors, shape, composition) and, on the other, of information content: some news of the moment, something that borders on the absurd Because I feel that paper supports things that fall under its own weight, political decisions or news that transcend the fragility of a single sheet of paper. The paper holds it all. The power of the word is the power of the image. So I try to make this series make sense of certain discursive content or a visual power for color and line.
And for the trees?
In the trees, however, there is no such selection, but I look for other qualities such as the size of the newspaper, the form they have. Large blocks are formed that accumulate, they become almost rocks. There the subject is another. While with the series of “The rings of time” you are thinking about the passing of time, when you see one of the carved trunks you think about matter, the volume it occupies. If you picked up the one-day publication and accumulated it here in this study (with six hundred copies you already have approximately one cubic meter), how much volume will three hundred thousand copies occupy, for example? There you no longer have a dimension of the paper, but – when you see it carved in the shape of a tree and see that it is periodic – you imagine the multiplication, you see that in a day a whole forest goes away.
Can you give us an example of how you have chosen pages for “The Rings of Time” that you will be exhibiting at ARCO?
In one we have a coincidence between two pages to separate the newspaper: one has a headline on the corruption trial in the Andalusian PSOE, with a photo of the accused. And on the other page are the hobbies: sudoku, white crossword puzzle, chess … I am sure that a hobbyist has these strategies to develop them, and in the trial there is also a strategy to deal with the situation. So this is destiny, a coincidence. It is these kinds of findings that give meaning to the composition. The result will be the strategy rings. Not all pages work. In which I select I see a color quality; sometimes there are colors in a photo that, seeing it in terms of painting, do not work, collide. So I look for harmonies, and for another of the circles I used a cover of the Cultural ABC and the advertising of the back cover, which had pastel tones. For another I have used the stock quotes page, which combines with another page with a photo in which Robert de Niro and Martin Scorsese are. The result is this harmonic chromatic circle, with very beautiful colors and with the information of the bag forming the outer rings.
For another of the works you will carve an unprinted paper drum. How did that idea come about?
While I was residing in London years ago, I planned to buy “The Times” every day and go on a chronologically continuous roll. But he only had three months of residence and that roll would not have advanced more than about ten centimeters. Years later, they invited me to do a project in London and I was able to recycle half a ton of copies of the Times. With a team of almost ten people for two months we managed to make a roll of about seventy centimeters in diameter. The result had very uneven edges, since we did it manually, sticking the edges with sticky adhesive, sheet by sheet, on a tape that would be thirty kilometers or more. By the same pressure when rolling the paper, wrinkles were generated. And, when I polished it, they looked like tree rings. So that is why I asked ABC to donate a print drum for the third piece that I am going to exhibit in ARCO, although it will be blank, because I think there was no possibility of rewinding it after printing. But the idea is to leave a blank file, with the potential to receive all kinds of future information, carved around.
He is also creating trunks based on Japanese woodcuts. Why that choice of reason?
When I made the discovery of creating trees, the first thing I did was to look for an artist who had been a virtuoso of the woodcut and I arrived at Alberto Durero, who in 1495 made the series about the Apocalypse according to Saint John. What he did was to record the destructive power of God’s fury against humanity: the harlot of Babylon, the descent of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse … At that moment I understood the power of the image, which counted on a simple sheet of paper . When I showed the trees I made with these prints, I realized that there were people who collided with that kind of information. Then I made the crucifixion of Christ and collided even more with a large sector of society. So I looked for a series of woodcuts that had another value. And I found Utagawa Hiroshige, an artist from the second half of the 19th century who recorded a trip along the Sumida River and in each place showed what social life was like in relation to the landscape and the river. I have been working with this series for several years, without ever repeating image (we have already made more than 50 percent) and in each case the result is a different trunk, with different ramifications.
What role does it give the viewer regarding his work, to mentally complete his work?
At first I was very ambitious, I wanted to give concrete information. That is something that artists sometimes sin at the beginning, wanting to make the possible interpretation unidirectional. But, in this type of work, I think that intention remains, because, being so formal, so obvious the reference, the reading is already on track. But then, with the knowledge each one has, he completes it. What these jobs have is that they are very seductive. When the person approaches and notices that it is an accumulation of loose leaves, the idea of gallery owners and conservatives is not to touch them, but for me it is important that they do so to see the nature of the object, it is designed to that interacts with people and make them enter into that mental process of drawing conclusions and, above all, of deconstructing, of reversing thinking. These works respond to an idea: that we do not verify reality, but that we have a first learning at every moment and the brain responds faster to the stimulus, it does not give us time to verify, we do not think if a chair can support our weight or If it is simply an optical illusion. And here the opposite happens, the same object leads the person to try to verify it. And, if he does, I think there will be a big change in his way of seeing things.