“"I didn’t know summers in Santa Fe were this hot,” Miler Lagos says, five weeks into his stint here. For the last month or so he’s been a shut-in at SITE Santa Fe, where he’s punched 12-hour days getting his “The Great Tree” ready for SITElines, the cultural institution’s re-imagined biennial.
Standing at 14-feet high, the tree is composed of press overrun issues of SFR, the Santa Fe New Mexican and other local publications.
“We started with four tons and once I started sculpting, I’d say about three tons remained,” he says.
The monumental piece is a take on the sacred Ceiba tree found across Maya lands.
“Indigenous peoples respect this type of tree because they think that it’s a special tree, a mystic tree,” he says. The idea behind the work, Lagos points out, is to present “an ancestral tree.” One that “contains information on its inside, like the tree of knowledge.”
He continues, “Several cultures have upheld trees as information containers—and they literally are—because in their rings, it is possible to read in every moment of the tree’s life, what was happening in its surroundings.”
Unsettled Landscapes, which the life-size trunk is a part of, is encompassed in the bigger SITElines: New Perspectives on Art of the Americas, a six-year project that aims to showcase artists across the Western Hemisphere in thought-provoking ways.
Getting up close to the piece, the different colors of the newsprint begin to unfold. “The process started by opening up the paper up so we could use the entire signature,” the Bogotá-based artist says, “that took 15 people three weeks to complete.”
"[It] contains information on its inside, like the tree of knowledge."
Tree rings are substituted by layers of regional information “from a very short period of time, really. Two weeks.”
Once bundled, the sections were piled in 4-inch stacks that were then attached to a center metal tube.
A burned-out sculptural process forces black and browns onto the delicate pinks and grays and gives the tree an almost lifelike impression.
“It’s a result of friction,” Lagos says of the look. “We burn the paper—and it smells like burning wood—before taking on that color.”
The process, he says, brings his material full circle.
“The essence of wood is within the paper,” he finalizes.