Interview: Laser Engraving and the Anthropocene

Delicate, beautiful and thought provoking.  It's what you get when you combine artistic talent, laser engraving, wallpaper, and climate change.  Meet Trevor Van den Eijnden, a teacher at VCAD and the creator of the art exhibit, Familiar Strangers.  We had the distinct pleasure of not only meeting Trevor, but our engraving team was called in to help with this unique project. And though we've never seen (let alone help create) anything this beautiful before, what surprised us most is the unexpected inspiration behind it all. 


Laser Engraving and the Anthropocene

Make:  Trevor, the laser engraved paper boxes are incredible and Familiar Strangers is such a unique project.  Can you explain what's behind it?  

Trevor:  This piece is the embodiment of all my research.  There are 23 boxes, each decorated with a different wallpaper pattern. I researched and chose a pattern that was created during each decade since the industrial revolution, which is, what some believe to be, the beginning of the Anthropocene age.  At the outset, this project began as the history of design and wallpaper; I've turned my research of wallpaper design into art.  But now, in the end, its become so much more than this for me.


Make:  The Anthropocene... can you elaborate?

Trevor:  The Anthropocene is the age of man.  We have so altered the earth we are now considered the principal force of nature, as opposed to previous ages, where we were subject to the forces of nature. We now move more rock and sediment than all the global forces of nature combined.  Its dark and nebulous.  

Make:  Yes, that makes sense, but how do wallpaper and laser cut paper boxes fit into all this?

Trevor:  I became interested in wallpaper design because it is a manufactured environment, a stereotype of nature.  Wallpaper is a re-imagining of pre-existing patterns.  I found curated books of wallpaper design that spoke to my feelings on this subject. I decided to replicate the patterns and then re-create them out of laser cut paper so the wallpaper designs would look even more pristine and pretty, more of a stereotype.  The boxes are a metaphor for how we manage the environment.  What we have around us now are stylized, manufactured environments.  The shadows that come through represent the real shadow cast by all this.  Its a sham.


Make:  So while Familiar Strangers is so beautiful it is, at the same time, a dark piece...

Trevor:  Yes. Its about manufactured environments and the idea that we can manipulate nature and that we have the right to.  It reminds me of a very good quote, "Power is not the same as supremacy."  These wallpaper designs are each a small act of violence on nature.  In no way can the work capture the whole of the violence of man on nature.  For me, I look at this project as just one small blade of grass.


Make:  It sounds like you are passionate about what's happening environmentally? 

Trevor:  Yes! The turning point for me was hurricane Juan in Halifax, 2003.  The Atlantic Ocean was so warm the hurricane blew up in scale as it passed Boston.  Then it just slammed into Nova Scotia.  It was unbelievable... it took out over a million trees.

Laser cutting the paper at Make 

Make:  So how much of the inspiration for your art comes from our current political climate and environmental issues?

Trevor:  All of it!  These laser cut boxes are fragile, and they are designed to collapse. It's about, literally, putting nature in a box. 

Make:  And so why use laser engraving? 

Trevor:  Designing this on paper was logical because it's representing wallpaper.  But then taking the wallpaper designs and laser cutting them onto paper boxes gave the wallpaper a different form. The laser allowed me to cut a shape that casts a shadow. I look at the laser engraver as super-futuristic fire, the anthropocene fire; and fire was the first primitive act of civilization. Metaphorically, the laser captures the history of man.  But, while is quite a dark idea, the laser engraver then allowed me to make art that is beautiful and not angry.

Make:  What part did Make play in putting this exhibit together?

Trevor:  I was on a deadline and needed help getting all the boxes cut in time!  Make helped with about 1/3 of them.  The team was really amazing and went out of their way to make it work, they even took off the front of the engraver so everything could fit!


To learn more about laser engraving at Make, contact our imaging team to help you with your next engraving project, big or small!  For more about Trevor and the exhibit Familiar Strangers, visit