He became a “loudspeaker” for a Finnish girl who saw her forests being destroyed

Ignacio Varela is a graphic designer and illustrator from Uruguay.  He was studying at Mediapolis as an exchange student during the fall of 2019, taking some photography courses. He is now presenting his project What is a tree other than freedom? in iWeek’s photography exhibition.

1. Who are you and where are you are from? Tell us your story.

Hi! My name is Ignacio Varela, a.k.a. VARE, and I am from Montevideo, Uruguay, just 12,732 km away from Finland. I am an illustrator and graphic designer working for one of the most important advertising agencies in Uruguay. I really like working on the field of illustration, branding, and animation but for some reason, the photography field was something that I never have experimented at all.

This is why I decided to participate in the Photography minor at TAMK. For me, it was also really exciting to live in a country really far away from home, to experience a totally different culture, to meet new people and enjoy Finland’s richness with all the forests, lakes and mesmerizing landscapes – totally unforgettable!

2. What are your main interests when creating your projects?

My interests or purposes have always been to create something that makes you think or rethink what you are doing. I cannot agree with those kinds of projects without a soul, totally aesthetic and nothing more. If a project is not accompanied by a significant aspect or something at least relevant, it doesn’t have much value for me.

3. Why did you choose to participate in IWeek? 

Participating in iWeek is exciting because is an open door to other places. iWeek is about international students from all over the world, so my project can be featured online – now my work is on anyone’s screen, no matter where they are in the world. That’s amazing. Moreover, I really enjoy seeing the process and the results of every fellow student. Every project is different and it is interesting to see them all in one place. 

4. Can you tell us more details about your project you will gonna exhibit in iWeek? How much time did it take to create it? What about the collaboration between you and Anna, the Finnish girl? How did it all happen? 

The collaboration with Anna, the Finnish girl in my series, was something close to a miracle – that kind of situation of two people who must know each other. I was sure that my project was going to be about deforestation and the problematic issue with the installation of the 2nd UPM Finnish plant in my country, Uruguay. 

But something was missing, the method and the form. At that precise moment, Anna appeared in the story. She uploaded one picture on her Instagram, of course, before knowing me, telling how sad she felt when she gets up one morning and discovered that the forest of her childhood had been destroyed. She was also criticizing the clearcutting way of collecting wood in Finland.

So I became the “loudspeaker.” Using photographs and some texts, our critique has a form now. This project was the way to tell a story that deserved to be told.

And talking about the process, on the 7th of October I sent a direct message to Anna’s Instagram account. On the 24th of December, I was flying back to Uruguay. That meant less than 3 months to make all of this happen. I must say I am really happy with the results and the direction where the project went.

5. What are your hopes regarding what people can understand from your project?

My project is not about finger-pointing big companies like UPM or Metsä. It is more about inviting us to reconsider our behavior as consumers because we are the ones who create the demand for big companies. In Uruguay, we are having multiple problems with the installation of the 1st UPM plant and now they are planning to install a 2nd one much larger and powerful. 

We have a big responsibility – to stop creating the demand for these companies.

Also for me was good to share with the world how two countries with thousands of kilometers distance can gather, discuss the same problem and share the same interest.

6. Can you tell us about your experience as an exchange student at TAMK?

Living in Finland for me was awesome. Taking my bike and riding every morning to Mediapolis when the temperatures were below zero degrees … was fascinating. 

One thing that I was always saying to Finnish people is that they know how to value the quality of the air. I traveled all around Europe and but you walk into a Finnish forest…it is a situation beyond comparison. 

This is why every Finn must take care and be aware of what’s going on with Finland’s forests and the declination of biodiversity.

8. What was one important thing that you learned at TAMK?

Something really important that I learned at TAMK was that no matter where you come from or what culture you have, you always have a context with you that is really interesting for the other one. 

As professor Juha Suonpää always says; “Find your personal fingerprint.”

If you put something from your personal fingerprint and mix it with a problem or issue that concerns more people you will be able to make any project interesting and relevant. Nothing can go wrong.


An interview with Ignacio Varela, conducted by Luiza Preda, edited by Isabella Presnal

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