TEDxElPaso: now serving Caldo!
On May 30, 2015, a small group of thinkers and doers gathered at the El Paso Community Foundation to share "ideas worth spreading" during El Paso's 2nd TEDxElPaso, "Spark Ideas Create Community". The Caldo Collective was proud to see their Director and Co-founder, Xochitl Rodriguez, sail into her talk, "speak without speaking"! Local dancer and performer, Laura Corral, accompanied Xochitl in an engaging talk that trascended the boundaries of words! Xochitl shared her ideas about the power of art as a tool for translation in communities who have limited or no access to the arts. Those ideas have been growing for years from a host of (let's be honest) totally insane experiences and now culminate through The Caldo Collective, as we prepare to open STAND WITH ME, the inaugural exhibition for The Transient Triangle Project, If you weren't able to attend the event or missed the livestream online, we're thrilled to upload the manuscript of her talk here! Enjoy!
speak without speaking TEDxElPaso 2015 Xochitl Rodriguez I turned myself into a boat after spending 14 months in the Kingdom of Bhutan. I sailed around the planet, from the desert to the Himalayas and back again. I was invited to teach youth about contemporary sculpture and art in public spaces, but realized fairly quickly that my understanding of what that would entail was pretty far from the actual meaning of what it is to teach contemporary art in the Himalayas! I was in a place where there had been no exposure to contemporary art... EVER. It wasn’t until 1999 that the internet landed in the isolated kingdom. There is only one road that connects major villages in Bhutan. My home base was in the capital city of Thimphu, which was at that time, the country’s only urban community. I began my adventure living in a three-generation household, on top of a mountain, waking up touching clouds… and sliding down monsoon drenched dirt paths to access a dirt road that took me to a main dirt road that took me to a taxi that took me to town. After six weeks, I chose to live just five feet from the main road, still on the outskirts of town, in the attic of what we called an outlaw building across the highway from Changjiji, the country’s government housing complex. I was to be the first foreigner EVER to work in Changjiji. It took about 48 hours for me to realize that in this place, this totally foreign, unrecognizable place, I was a transplant. I had traveled across the world alone and, brave as I might have decided to be, I needed a guide. I needed a translator. I had to deconstruct everything and abandon my own definition of what the world was. And if I was to teach contemporary art, I had to abandon that definition too… and adapt. It was in Bhutan that I learned one of my life's most valuable lessons. It was in Bhutan that I learned that adaptation and reflection are the drivers behind the artist’s most valuable, most CRUCIAL role in society. Artists are translators. We are humanity’s most valuable translators, because we don’t rely on words to translate the human experience. We can speak without speaking. ART is our language. All of the world has a right to be fluent in ART. Art is in fact a language and if a community can’t understand it, create it, generate it, and most importantly RELATE to it then that community cannot and will not thrive, will not participate in, will not contribute to the evolution of humanity itself. It is the ONLY language that can be spoken universally. It’s important to mention that I am talking about contemporary art BECAUSE it is explorative, process based, participatory, a tool for dissection, and most importantly defiant of any boundary or structured discipline. It is collaborative and driven by adaptation… so it takes you beyond dictation and interpretation to discover generative processes that are triggered by questions. After nearly ten years working as an artist/educator at street level, I am driven by El Paso’s need for artist-led action to trigger cultural evolution. It is our role to push the boundaries of language that stifle our community’s potential future. A progression of language-symbols and ideas-must occur. Who is the Cesar Chavez of our time? Why do we not celebrate her? If there is no equivalent, artists must examine why this figure is missing when the need for such activism as great as it was in the 80s. Where are the translations of actual border crossers of the 21st century, representations of actual living breathing hybrid beings? We have the artistic tools to push the representation of that part of our community’s story. Why not create a soundscape of sounds that can only be found on our bridges and share it with the rest of the world? ... or a painting made of every footstep that crosses our bridges? Does that message not transmit a concept of shared humanity that translates our experience to the rest of the world? Our language must evolve to create things that are beyond literal stories, that examine broad spectrums of ideas, identities, experiences and contexts that are unfolding today, right now at one of the world’s most porous international borders. In 2008, more than 32 million people crossed our borders. That means that at least that many ideas, identities and stories traveled through this city. As artists, will we ignore those stories as we sit and watch traditions be commercialized, as monuments are erected that are so foreign the public is deterred before their interest can even be sparked, much less participation initiated. We MUST create a point of contact through which the community can access contemporary ideas. Can we not build boats in the desert to represent survival at all costs? Can we not explore new symbols that reflect instead of declare? We sailed through the streets of central El Paso in boats built during a tropical storm in Kansas City. They were born of water, but made for the desert. The boats were brought here to be shared, in public, on the street with everyone for free. They were an offering to every person who walked by or drove by, who stopped and stared or stopped and talked, to every child that rode on a boat for the first time in their life. They were made for this place. They were made by this place. In El Paso, languages blur on the daily. Artists must find a common language. So the question becomes… what does process look like if an artist, if a translator, creates work that engages communities who have never seen contemporary art work, who don’t speak that language? PASUR How does an artist teach the world to speak without speaking? The first thing artists do is we identify meaning for common things-shared pieces of the human experience. What does your world mean to you, how do you define it? What is important? What makes something important? The second thing an artist does is create meaning beyond what is a given. WE REDEFINE… build new associations for common things. It is a basic teaching in the building of symbols and metaphors; only when an artist carries out this lesson, we do so through object making and action. We don’t need words. The third thing an artist does is explore… to find different representations of the same things. We find the same interpretations of different things. In Bhutan, we traveled to the landfill. We were creating work for a public exhibition about WASTE in Bhutan. We went through two weeks of work until I realized the students didn’t ACTUALLY know what waste meant in relation to their way of life. That connection was missing. So we jumped on a bus and then on a dump truck and rode for miles and miles up the mountain to Bhutan’s largest landfill. The kids saw a mountain of garbage. They understood immediately what the problem was. When I asked what it looked like, some said a mountain and one, cunning Ugyen said, “no tai! Look at the garbage… it is falling like water. This is an ocean wave.” So we made a boat. I was asked later by a fellow artist whether I considered that people in Bhutan have no relationship to or understanding of boats. I giggled weeks later when the children came running to tell me the neighbors had filled the boat with trash. “Now surely it will sink in the sea of garbage, Madame.” That was THE moment… the unmistakeable moment when a fundamental exchange of ideas occured. They had become translators! The children didn’t even know how special, how significant that was. I still smile. Those children understood that we pulled the neighborhood in subtly, almost unnoticeably. They knew that without that garbage, the boat would have been a simple sculpture of a simple thing. The last thing we do is put our translations to action. We make them live and BREATHE; strip away the words and find, discover what it all looks like, sounds like, smells like! In identifying these universal cues you create signals for larger ideas. The image of an ancient patty field, enlarged and project onto buildings in a government housing complex can in fact tell the whole world a story about the passage of time, the evolution of society… the loss of culture. What does the world look like, sound like, smell like, feel like and how exactly do you share it with your specific community? In a community like ours, this process likely leads to the inevitable question of what an artist, what a translator does when a community seems to be complacent. You give them no choice… you give them art in their spaces, right before their eyes and ears. You eliminate the perceived boundaries In 2013, The Caldo Collective was cofounded for that exact purpose. The project exists for the single purpose of building bridges between artists and the community they live in. Real. Tangible. Bridges. Currently, six artists are laying the groundwork for the activation of accessible public art in the historic Manhattan Heights Neighborhood. The exhibition is the inaugural experiment for what is called the Transient Triangle Project. We are using the exact process I just described to take over an alleyway. The goal of the exhibition is to use our different artistic practices, let’s call them dialects, to teach the public how to speak art! We're planning to translate a poem through an immersive journey down an alleyway. We’re including our community in the process. To the extent that we’ve asked them to submit sounds, images and videos that will be used to create conceptual sound compositions, movements for performance, images for video and narrative for paintings. We want to know what El Paso is for them. We're offering them a simple poem that is about life in their world. We're asking them to trigger their own experience with our work, to create their own meaning. We’re processing their language and translating it into our different dialects. We’re giving them synonyms! Ultimately, maybe without knowing they've done it, through our translations AND theirs they learn to speak a new language; they learn to speak art. They learn to redefine their world. Just as I had to learn to translate in the Himalayas, any person who has never seen a work of contemporary art must learn too. Books can’t teach it.. only artists can. The role of the artist in the community evolves to be a role of the artist WITH the community. No person can be expected to engage in something that speaks TO them instead of speaking WITH them. The translations fuel the redefinition of border culture in a community like ours. Art IS the translation itself. An artists' work becomes THE conversation. Once an artist unlocks that, the whole world is changed. To think of engaging the community through the arts without treating the art itself as a conversation… would be equivalent to trying to grow flowers without water. Our communities need more conversations. We need more translators.