Chilean poet, author and film maker Santiago Elordi, takes us on a global journey using art as his passport.
Chile is the final stop for aeroplanes in South America. It is an island, but not one surrounded by sea. It is separated from the world by the driest desert on earth, the ice of Patagonia, the enormous Andes and 5,000 km of Pacific coast. My family descends from the first Spanish conquerors and for 500 years they have been “mixing” between themselves (my grandparents were first cousins).
In this geographic and inbred isolation my childhood passed but through the tales of Robert Louis Stevenson, Emilio Salgari and Mark Twain, I was able to leave my confinement and experience the world. And as soon as I finished school, I travelled, recording my trips in notebooks that later would become stories and poems. Since then, as a trader, miner, rider, journalist, and diplomat, I have kept travelling.
I want to show how art can be part of our daily identity and a “passport” that helps us in our relationships with others and I want to make my point through some personal experiences. As Jorge Luis Borges wrote, “what happens to a person, happens to humanity.”
Some years ago, with my wife, the artist, Kate Macdonald, we created ‘Candy Lips’. This is a factory of ideas in which we develop different artistic projects, anything from long walks to documentaries and public art. We once travelled 6,000 km inland in Brazil to the state of Matto Grosso, following the route of the British explorer Percy Fawcett, who in 1927, looking for El Dorado, disappeared in the jungle with his son Jack. We never found the Fawcetts, but while we were looking, Kate painted murals in the villages we visited. The locals were curious and pulled up chairs to watch the paintings progress, paintings that were a reflection of themselves. In this way we won the trust of the villagers and in turn they lent us a hammock and cooked us whole grilled turtles. Indeed, over the last 5,000 years the development of agriculture, animal domestication, writing and technology, namely all human achievements, have been made possible by the interaction and exchange of culture and creativity from one society to another.
Meanwhile, my daughter is travelling through the Argentinean Patagonia. She is writing her thesis on the now extinct Selk’nam Indians from Tierra del Fuego, a seal-hunting tribe that navigated the icy seas in their wooden canoes, and who, paradoxically even in that extreme and freezing environment, took time to paint their naked bodies with beautiful drawings. We remember them as a tribe concerned with art, even after their disappearance.
As with trade, diplomacy and sharing food, art can be a tool of integration. I haven’t really read much science fiction, but I have always liked the idea of what to do if an alien was suddenly beamed down into a human home. The father would be afraid and want to protect his family (for he does not know if the aliens are peaceful or violent), he may decide to be hospitable, offer something of interest or typically human to the new comer. Basically we would start to negotiate.
Maybe it would be a good idea to cook a good dinner for our extra terrestrial, sea urchins with parsley, crab empanadas and spaghetti with white truffles, followed perhaps by a glass of twelve year old single malt and a cigar? Hopefully the alien smokes and likes a good drink. After dinner we could make our way to the living room, where I would place our strange new friend on the sofa in front of one of Kate’s paintings, in particular one of a woman
holding a birdcage. The cage is open but the birds do not fly away. I hope this painting will move them and while they contemplate our very human art, my children Flora (6) and Luca (5) would sit on their galactic knees (if they have any) playing with their Interstellar weapons as if they were harmless toys.
My last novel, Seven, recently published in Spain, takes place over seven days in an exclusive hotel in Shanghai. It is a love story between Macgregor, an old British trader and Seven, a beautiful young Cambodian girl who was taken from her village as a child. It is a tragicomedy about the uprooting of identities in our global world and Seven finds her escape through art, anonymous actions like drawing on napkins or writing phrases on mirrors.
A couple of months ago I was invited to present the novel at a rural school in the the dry north of Chile, as far away from the setting of the novel as you could find. Happily, I noticed that the students listened carefully to the story. At the end of my presentation a boy gave me a paper cat. Art can touch myths and archetypes in all cultures.
Currently Kate and I are working on a documentary about work and leisure, on how people deal with work and free time depending on their cultural heritage. We have interviewed economists, politicians, factory workers and hairdressers to name but a few and we have filmed all over the world from beaches in Havana, to polo tournaments in Buenos Aires and shopping malls in Shanghai. We are building a platform so that people from all over the world can send their personal images of work and free time, so as to create an interactive film reflecting on a theme that goes back to the origin of humanity, a film that highlights art when finding its necessary place, in the everyday.
Let’s believe for a moment that the imagination transforms reality. Imagine an ideal day: for some it will achieving success at work, or a trip to an exotic country, or simply to wake up at home with loved ones. Whatever it may be, because of those moments, that day will be made more powerful. It will become a sure and fixed recollection, memory tied to time through the music listened to, a single word or conversation, aroma, food or an object given or received. Art and life are like boats dragged by the same current. A song while jogging in the park can give us a new form of perception. A strange gesture, a street seen as for the first time, we hope such new connections may make us rethink our standing in reality.
Identity is also a projection, of how we want to appear before others. Just think of the trillions of selfies that appear in social media. These also belong to the art of representation. Incorporating art into our daily lives is a spontaneous and necessary exercise.
As a child I read stories that took me from the distant confinement of my country and so I began to write. Whatever its expression, art is present from what we eat to the way we set the table. The truth is that in a moving identity, reality changes. We mutate. Today, I live near a park in London with my family, I do not know for how long, but I cross the river every morning when I take the children to school. When we walk on the pavement, it is an art not to tread on the lines and the first one to see the Lolly Pop lady wins ten points. “Good morning Miss Georgina”, we greet her while she gently stops the cars. I say goodbye to the children at school and walk back home. Continuing the day, I make coffee or tea from Ceylon, and I look out of the window at the aeroplanes in the cloudy sky of London, this unique, unfathomable, multifaceted city, where each one lives a sense of art according to their needs, to live better, we hope.