The Fusion Between Nature Science and Art

In this video, Ivan describes his work as the fusion between nature, science and art. We see how all three interests meld together to form one whole body of work.

When I get asked what I do, I say “I am a river explorer and audio visual artist” or “I fuse nature, science and art”. It is pretty hard to explain in a few words so… if I redirect you to this video; this is what I do. I hope you enjoy it.

Thank you:
Felix Simonovis for embedding the Spanish subtitles on the video.

Luisa Cristina Carrillo for translating the video to Spanish.

Below are the Spanish subtitles text.

Hello! I am Iván Milkoji, river explorer and audio-visual artist.

Hello! I am Ivan Milkoji
Hello! I am Iván Milkoji and this is the Caño Cristales at dawn.
This is the Atabapo River at dawn.

My work is a fusion between nature, science and art. I use images, videos, drawings and paintings, to show the hidden beauty in the rain forest, in the plains, in the savannahs and under the water to inspire people to preserve all these ecosystems.

When I started exploring and photographing orchids or wildflowers, and I took some of those images to the scientists, they told me: “Hey, this is a new species of orchid”; “This is a new species of fish.” Sometimes, even while I was in the creek, I took the camera and said to the locals: “Hey, I’m photographing this fish” and they did not even know the fish. That led me to think that there were many things that people were unaware of and that this happened many times in each of the creeks visited by me.

On one occasion, while I was on one of my expeditions, having already been driving for a considerable amount of time – since we sometimes drive for twelve hours-, the following sentence came to mind: “You cannot preserve something if you do not know that it exists.” Suddenly, I realized that the most important part of my job was to show people what they have so that they can preserve it. If people don’t know what they have, there will be no way that they can help take care of it.”

Many important moments have brought me to where I am today and one of those moments was when I saw a Pterophyllum Altum for the first time. The Pterophyllum Altum is the angelfish of the Orinoco River. I saw large specimens of Pterophyllum Altum in a friend’s aquarium. They were amazing. I could not believe what I was seeing.

I was captivated. Sometime later, I went to look for these fish in the jungle, since I wanted to record and photograph them, and this led me to the Pavoni River, in the Venezuelan Amazon State. The Pavoni River was famous because it had large Altum populations.

The ornamental fishermen fished these fish there for the hobby of aquariums and according to stories; there were millions of these fish. Then, I went to the Pavoni River and swam day and night; I searched using flashlights at night, many times, for hours and never found one fish. Therefore, I went to the Pavoni Indigenous Community, located on the banks of the river, and asked to speak to the Commissioner.

After being authorized to speak to the chief, I told him: “I am looking for the Orinoco angelfish and I have not found one.” The chief said to me: “What Orinoco angelfish are you talking about?” Therefore, I took a stick and drew the fish on the ground. The chief said to me, “Ah, you are looking for the Altum.” The chief knew the scientific name but didn’t know the common name of the fish. In addition, I said to him, “Yes, we are looking for the Altum.” He said to me, “We ate them all.” “What?”, I asked him. He told me: “We used barbasco in the river to catch the fish. We used barbasco to stun the fish and we ate them all. We haven’t seen one Altum in years. I was baffled. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. After thinking about it, I concluded it was obvious that not only the Altum fish was becoming extinct; it was obvious that the ethnicity of these indigenous people was also disappearing; they were wearing jeans and had DIRECTV. The river was also becoming polluted, everything was dying, not just the fish and I also think it was the first time I drew a fish and it was literally on Kurripako land. The indigenous people there are the Kurripako. So it was literally in Kurripako lands that I first drew a fish and it was an Altum angelfish.

I try to merge the colors of everything I see in the jungle in my drawings and paintings. For example, if I am coloring fish and I remember that there are purple orchids in the trees where they live, possibly I will put that purple in the fish, or if the land was yellow, I will put that yellow, if there are green aquatic plants, I will put that green, if there are red aquatic plants, I will also be able to merge that red, because you have to understand that the color is relative. For example, when you see an angelfish underwater, in blue waters, the fish that is silver with brown stripes, when you see it in blue waters, the fish is blue. When you see this fish in sewage, whose color is tea or orange, the fish is orange, and when you take the fish out the water and place it in your hand to take a photo of it, the fish is blue because it is reflecting the blue of the sky. So, what is the true color of the fish? It depends on your point of view. If you see it in blue waters, if you see it in orange waters, if you see it out of the water or what it is reflecting. Everything is a fusion of it and this is how I see my drawings and my paintings.

One of the things that I find most interesting to take a picture is the reflections in the water. You can observe these reflections throughout my work, and the most interesting of all of them, for me, are the underwater reflections. Underwater reflections are difficult concepts to understand since I am taking a photo of the movement of the water, the current, the flow and what that flow reflects from the bottom and the outside. So, for example, if there are green aquatic plants, you will have a half green color in the reflection of the water, if there is a blue sky, you will also get a blue and if there are trees outside, you will get green too, a different shade of green. Therefore, everything is a mixture between the angle of the light, the flow and the things that are under and outside the water, and the most incredible thing is that they do not exist. I’m taking a picture of something, of a moment, which doesn’t exist. I turn on the flashlight and they disappear. I take the angle differently and they disappear, they don’t exist. These moments are always a subject of study for me; whenever I go to the jungle, I spend a lot of time in the water taking pictures of them and trying to understand what the best ways to do it and why, and their behavior is still a mystery for me. They are too complex. They are microphotographs of moments that do not exist.

Raudales de Atures on the Orinoco River is one of the most magical places visited by me. The place is incredible. There are big round rocks everywhere, some of them with the size of a car and some as big as a basketball court. They are round and polished. The sand and the particles in the water that travel at high speed have polished the rocks. They are also covered in desert varnish and look chrome. So in the morning when the sky is blue these rocks look blue, while in the afternoon when the sky turns yellow or orange the rocks reflect yellow and orange. It’s amazing! When the season changes and the water level drops or rises, some islands emerge. There in Atures, in the middle of the river, there is a special island. When the water levels drop, the fish begin to migrate through the Orinoco towards the Guaviare River, the Autana River, the Ventuari River and the Cuao River.

The fish go to all these great rivers to deposit their eggs, and they have to go through this small strait of the Atures. So a lot of fishermen go to this little island, build rudimentary huts using sticks and plastic, and stay there for weeks, fishing as the fish migrate upriver and also when they finish to spawn and go down. Therefore, there is a lot of activity there, as there are many fishermen and a lot of action with the fish and all the rocks are polished. It is a view too incredible to see. But the most incredible thing is to look at the rocks and the ground covered with petroglyphs. There are pre-Columbian drawings on the rocks. Maybe they used to come here to fish the same fish that fishermen come to catch nowadays. But perhaps today’s fishermen come and go. Probably, the indigenous people wanted to decorate this place, this was their home. So they probably decorated and performed their rites. When the water level rises and these islands disappear for four or five months, those petroglyphs become the habitat, the biotope of so many species of fish. It’s amazing! This place becomes home, not to those fishermen, but to those fish that reproduce and feed there on those rocks. I find incredible the fusion between nature and our ancestors, and the relationship between nature and us. I have incorporated these pre-Columbian forms or petroglyphs in some of my paintings and drawings. Some of them are more obvious than others, so they will have to be observed carefully.