Our Land is Full of Bones
Further speaks to design collective La Metropolitana about their first work of art, an installation that uses wood to evoke the devastation of Mexico’s ongoing drug wars.
Wood is more than a material to the Mexico City-based design studio La Metropolitana. It’s a sacred substance with deep symbolic significance that ripples through the studio’s diverse creative projects, from museums, public squares, restaurants, and theatrical sets to private houses, accessories, graphics, and furniture. Further Marfa sees the team taking their first work to the art world with “Our land is full of bones,” a searing work that confronts spectators with a dark and plaintive vision of the violence, disappearances and murder that plagues contemporary Mexico. We sat down with La Metropolitana founding partner Rodrigo Escobedo on the eve of the exhibition's opening to discuss the group's inspiration, their current projects, and more.
Our main interest as a company and my own personal-professional interest is wood. I started my career with an apprenticeship in violin making, which I ended up doing for four years before studying industrial design and moving on to specialize in furniture design. Wood is the result of a metabolic process whereby the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide is transformed into carbon, and oxygen is released into the atmosphere, making life possible. And the wood itself is the remains of a living thing—like bones. So, in everything that we make—in our chairs, in our tables, in our pieces—that’s our way to make a statement about the importance and the sacred condition of wood.
At the moment, we’re living in the middle of a war. My country is facing something that’s really, really complicated. In recent years, hundreds of thousands of people have disappeared. I'm linked with a group of mothers who are looking for their children who have disappeared. They receive information from drug smugglers or sicarios or people who know something, and then they take a metal stick, they stick it into the ground, and then they smell the stick. In one case, a group of mothers in Veracruz found 345 people buried—over a period of two or three years maybe six or seven years ago—in a mountain really close to a major city. And that is not an isolated case. That situation is happening everywhere. And we have to speak about this. That’s the point we’re trying to raise, and wood plays a symbolic role.
“Wood itself is the remains of a living thing—like bones.”
It’s everyone. Some researchers believe that even the government was involved. As I said though, it's a really complex situation and we just want people to wake up from their indifference. Our project, “Our land is full of bones,” is linked with the reconfiguration of society. We believe that we can integrate our society because we were living for 450 years as a “colony,” with one group of people taking advantage of another. But now we have an opportunity to change it.
La Metropolitana is a team of about 60 people now. Most of them are local immigrants from rural communities, and many have only received basic education. Actually, about half of the population in Mexico are from similar backgrounds. It's one of our major interests as a company that we’re trying to resolve. In every project that we focus our attention on, we’re trying to solve this condition in the best way possible. And that’s why also why we’re here in Marfa presenting our first piece related to the art industry, because we believe that the message that we're trying to share is an important one. Right now, we’re working on an interesting project that works with remote communities. A lot of people have had to leave their hometowns to go to the cities to find work. We’re trying to teach them how to work with materials, technology, robotics, and eventually create products that speak to a high-end market and create wealth for these more remote communities. Hopefully, this will lead to a transformation of their realities.
From the beginning, I decided that I will not present myself as an individual because my work is not just mine. I am part of a huge team of talented people, some of whom are professionals, industrial designers, architects, and so on. We can’t say, “this is the work of Rodriguez,” because this is the work of La Metropolitana. And La Metropolitana is a dynamic entity that can point its attention to art, but we can also point our attention to furniture, and we can also point our attention to politics. We believe that the world right now needs that kind of action. I truly believe in a shared consciousness that is flowing into every human being. It's just about evolution. It's just about energy. It's just about balance. We are facing a super interesting and dynamic period with a lot of technological advances, and this period has given us a lot of things. It gave us violence, but it also gave us possibilities. I hope that the art scene will contribute something to the time.
“We believe that we can create art production workshops around our country, linking people, craftsmanship, education, permaculture, and nutrition. We are in the most dynamic moment of our existence.”
We are just about to open our first factory outside Mexico City, in a really interesting place called Xocotlán, and it’s not too far from where the mothers found the 345 remains of their sons. We’ve been working with this community for eight years now, and there are some excellent craftspeople. They work 15 days in Mexico City right now and then rest for 15 days in their community, with their families. But that's not enough—we are moving a complete facility there, because our processes are linked. It's a link between technology and ancient craftsmanship. As a company, we want to reproduce this model as much as we can, and not just for furniture. I believe that we can also do that in the art industry. We believe that we can create art production workshops around our country, linking people, craftsmanship, education, permaculture, and nutrition. We are in the most dynamic moment of our existence.