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Outside of Santiago, Chile something magical is happening.
A concrete jungle of a metro station is becoming a brilliant, shimmering natural history museum. A community wracked by drugs and violence is reconnecting with itself and its natural heritage. And a cadre of young artists with no formal training in the art form is becoming one of the most accomplished mosaic teams on the planet.
Meet Isidora Paz López, sculptor, ceramicist, visionary and Artistic Director for a project that will cover the 84 pillars of the metro station in Puente Alto, Chile with mosaic. The 37 year old mother of two is determined that she and her crew of 32 people will complete all of the pillars – an estimated 2,500 square meters of mosaic – in just 12 months.
It was the mayor of Puento Alto, Manuel José Ossandon, who gave López the pillar challenge. As his last term as mayor was ending, Ossandon wanted to leave behind a gift to the community – something big, something bold, something transformational. It started with mosaicing two long walls in the station. These mosaics depicting the nearby mountain ranges at sunrise and sunset would be the first time that art would be incorporated into metro station in Chile.
When that ground-breaking project was completed, the mayor turned to López once again, this time with the prospect of covering the 84 pillars. At first, Lopez was daunted, “Impossible! Too ambitious!” Then, she was inspired.
We created the concept of showing the flora and fauna of our area and to do it from micro to macro. People would discover in the mosaics all of the amazing nature that we have around us. There would be images of all sorts of animal, insect and plant life. At the bottom of each pillar would be the scientific and common names for each species, so there would be be an educational contribution to the city as well. – Isidora Paz López
Right now, 52 of the pillars are complete and another three underway. The deadline for all 84 pillars is the end of October.
Simply put, the pillars are fantastic – alive with a vibrancy and joyfulness that is captivating. Insects, birds, reptiles, mammals, flowers, herbs, cacti, the large, the small, the intimidating, the adorable – all manner of species are represented in a graphic style that lends itself beautifully to mosaic technique. Major elements are outlined with a thick black line that really makes them “pop” forward for the viewer. Even with limited access to tile, López and her team have created a cohesive palette that holds the 84 pillars together without a single visual glitch. The mosaics are engaging, stunning and elegant.
The challenge we have at the moment is to finish on time. We are making the central figures of the mosaics with so much love that we take more time than we expect with every one. We don’t want to reduce the quality of our work for the quantity of our work, so the challenge is to do it in the most fantastic and efficient way that we can.
López’ organization for making the mosaics is very similar to the way work was divided among ancient Roman mosaic workers.
Working in teams, we have four groups: The Artists who make the designs and execute the principal figures in the mosaics, the Helpers who work alongside the Artists in creating the principal figures, the Background group, most of whom are students, who fill in the solid colors, and finally the Grouting group who also move the scaffolding for us from pillar to pillar. We are 32 workers in total and we work Monday through Friday, six hours a day.
Each pillar starts with a photograph, sometimes one taken by López’ husband, German nature photographer Chris Lukhaup. The pillar is then assigned to an individual artist (“Head of Pillar”) who is in charge of the four to six people will work with him/her. After an overall design is agreed upon, all work of the work is executed on site.
On average it takes two weeks and 16 people to complete one pillar – and remember, there are 84 of them – and a deadline only three months away.
When we start a new pillar, we make a total visualization of the work, choosing the colors and also the language that we will use for the design. Language is what we call the type of cuts we use, for example “feathers”, “scales”, “squares”, etc.
Asked if she has a favorite pillar, López says
It is hard to chose one, but at the moment it is the dragonfly. It was a challenge for me to do because of the complex symmetry. Now that it is complete, I really like the transparent effect of the wings a lot, but – every week there is a new favorite.
Cruising through the hundreds of photos on López’ Facebook page, we found a couple of favorites . . . this fellow with his beautifully articulated fur, for one.
Then there’s this slithery charmer with his exquisitely shaped scales.
And, there is something about this face that just makes us giggle.
López says that the support from the Municipality of Puento Alto has been outstanding.
Our salaries (nice for artists!) and all of the materials are paid for by the Municipality of Puento Alto and I am grateful for their strong support of what we are doing. Not only do I have the chance to select the people who will work with me, but the city has given me complete artistic control as well. They also have provided us with a crew who help us with preparing the pillars – cleaning them and removing all graffiti before we begin, moving materials, security and making the scaffolding. We could not do this without them.
When asked what she intends to do when the project is done, López says:
I don’t know! This is a “dream job” – we do what we like and it has been wonderful to be assured of a good salary for almost a year! I feel that many good things will come. We have learned a lot as individual mosaicists but also as a group. All that we know about organization, the dynamics of work, our systems and the unique style of our designs we have learned as we worked. I don’t want to lose all of what we have gained as a team so my greatest hope is to continue working with this group of people and to fill up the streets with our art.
And the community’s response?
Every day people stop to comment on how beautiful the mosaics are and to thank us for what we are doing. Some people leave the metro at the station before this one just so they can walk part of the way home to see the mosaics. Others come from far away just to see what we are doing and to congratulate us. We have also noticed that many of the neighbors have become interested in mosaic; they come by in the afternoons to collect leftover tile shards for use in their own homes.
“Creative Placemaking” is a term we came upon this week in an art publication. It was used to describe “art projects that have enlivened and enhanced neighborhoods and communities.” We think that is exactly what Ms. López and her group are doing in Puente Alto. This is as stunning a public art project as we have seen anywhere. It is also one of the most ambitious – its schedule, its scope, its beauty, its intention – everything is outsized and over-the-top.
With all that they have gained through this experience, we can see the mosaicists of Puente Alto packing their nippers to travel to distant cities to do a lot more Creative Placemaking.
It is now our pleasure to introduce you to the Pillar Team of Puente Alto.
Bravo a todos!
The Pillar Team of Puente Alto including: Artistic Director Isidora Paz López, Alejandra Guzmán, Paulo Meyer, Valeria Merino, Carolina González, Gonzalo San Martín, Hector Velozo, Javiera Melo, Soledad Fuentealba, Nicolás Chacón, Sabrina Morgado, Catalina Larraín, Isabel González, José Olivos, Paloma Cale, Felipe Olivos
MORE MOSAIC IN PUENTE ALTO: The success of the Pillar Project inspired the City to commission López and her crew to cover still more Metro installations. There is now a total of over 3,000 sq meters of mosaic. See our update with more fabulous photos HERE
- Our 2014 story on the completed mosaics in Andamento, the journal of the British Association for Modern Mosaic
- A MAN update on the project with meters of new work can be found here
- More photos of the project can be found on López’ Facebook Page www.facebook.com/isidorapaz
- López can be contacted via email at: email@example.com