For humans, politics and history permeate every place we are in. Although it’s often impossible to actually see that history within a given location, our awareness of it is always there, hanging about us like air.
But on Iberia’s forest floor there are only trees. A flashgun lights the way like a torch. Through the harsh contrast of dazzlingly bright near and darkening far, that sense of searching around in the dark breaks through as you take in the vast expanse of foliage page to page. Each page “resets” this distance with a new near and a new far. On one hand, it feels as though you could be moving through it, that the flash in these photographs serve as a marker of distance travelled. On the other, the forest feels like an impenetrable wall of vegetation.
The magazine is wrapped with a soft paper cover. On it, front and back, are two images: one of Iberia’s past, and one of its present. On the front, an ancient Iberian sculpture of a horse and rider, with the rider’s bust broken off. On the back, a bust in commemoration of Máximo Rodríguez, a rubber hunter who, upon seeing the extent of Bolivian colonization in the name of exploiting Iberia’s forests for rubber, trained its natives to fight back. Page after page, Iberia’s photographs show an endless, unquantifiable survey of the bounty that Iberia offers explorers — dig into the bark with a knife, carve a spiral groove into the trunk and let the sap travel down. Bring enough workers and you could drain the whole forest.
Though this land has been colonised and exploited for centuries, these forests seem to remain the same — the same enormous cluster of trunks, stems and leaves. To us in the present, who might visit them and feel that weight hanging in the air, history appears as little more than an eternal cycle of exploitation. Simultaneously, the present feels eternal and vast, just as dense and multi-layered as the forest Iberia shows across its many pages, darker the further away it gets. Even though there’s nothing to hint at that history within the forest itself, Iberia’s cover reminds us of those beyond it. They are the people who were caught between the pages and the cover, caught up in these power struggles.
Iberia can let us ask: how do you communicate history’s weight on a place as a feeling, as more than a set of solid facts and prescribed symbols or icons of that history?
Plademunt took the context in which he was working and, rather than writing it up into an artist statement or essay on the pictures, made it into part of the work, where text and image inform one another rather than direct each other. Both a physical and contextual wrapper, the cover serves as a way to communicate that historical atmosphere which permeated the forest he photographed. But it does so without impoverishing these images which are so easy to fall into, so easy to “walk through” like Plademunt himself. There’s no loss in reading how I experienced the work here, because the experience of Iberia is built from repetition. In that, it’s more about the journey than the destination. It works intuitively, and Iberia’s appeal is that even though it at first seems impenetrable, give it time and it will open up just like that expansive forest.
Finally, on the very last page of the magazine, hidden behind the inside flap of Iberia’s paper cover, is a picture of two men standing in that forest, tapping a tree for rubber.