I am a pilgrim. I first walked Camino de Santiago in the summer 1993 when I was 16. This pilgrimage was part of a summer camp arranged by the school-seminary Cristo de El Pardo where I received a 6-year education to become a friar in to the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin Franciscans. I did not take the vows. But walking on a pilgrimage was an experience that I have been seeking as a personal and aesthetic statement. In the summer of 2015, my research-based practice started by making my first Scandinavian pilgrimage, S:t Olavsleden.
Out of this project came a book containing documentation of the project. Discussing it with Karin Mamma Andersson, one of the more influential Swedish artists, she pointed out a picture of a stone capital decorated with animal figures from a Medieval church: “In Gotland we have one hundred churches with this kind of high-relief ornamentations”. This was the first time I heard about Gotland, an island filled with Medieval churches and located in the middle of the Baltic Sea.
Gotland is a flat island. The belltower of the churches are visible from a considerable distance. I visualized a 'secular' pilgrimage using the churches as landmarks. In order to arrange the walking route, I visited each church in the summertime when the island is full of tourists. I asked myself, what happens if a group of tourists explore the island under the analogy of pilgrims?
Tourists, like pilgrims, allow themselves outside the everyday life to be carried away in pursuit of renewing experiences. But while tourists use traveling as a commodity product, the journey of pilgrim goes beyond the consumer attitude. Pilgrims seek hospitality as a treatment that is halfway between sharing and gift giving. To be able to provide a framework outside of the tourist industry, I understood that my main labor was to reach the social capital of Gotland. So I spent time with priests, farmers, journalists, archeologists, service providers, fishermen, horse lovers, tourist guides, teachers, militaries, architects, municipality workers, musicians, activists... I discovered that the most defining feature of the island is not its unique cultural heritage and amazing natural environment, but it is the people who inhabit it. Through their feed-back, I took ideas that emerged and converted them into a poetic gesture: to break the alienation between visitor/tourist and local/provider created by tourism.
As a catalyst for aesthetic experiences to happen, I use Art to create situations wherein ordinary social conventions are upturned. In order to create a travel community, I invited people from different backgrounds and countries: Sweden, Denmark, Russia, Germany, Belgium, FInland, Basque Country, Dominican Republic, Spain... Fostering the Pilgrim role among the participants, opportunities of mutual support were created, a democratic participation was set and facilitated a common mindset. We walked, talked, laughed, fought, hugged, cried, meditated, bath-naked... together. We shared meals and slept on the same floor. For three weeks, we built a fellow-feeling society, despite the fact we had never met before, we made friends. We wove a net of social relations on our way. We got food and accommodation for free in parish houses, churches and private homes.
Our pilgrimage was a poetic subversive gesture. At a time when tourism overwhelm the island, we embraced a &ldquosensorial value” to the island by sincerity, respect and care. We knocked on the hearts of people that we met and they showed us the authenticity of Gotland that goes unnoticed by the tourist.
Our action became ritual. We appropriated the spiritual inheritance of a specific territory for giving it a meaningful way. Apostlahästar is an old Swedish word that etymologically means 'the horses (hästar) of the apostles (Apostlar)'. It refers to moving by foot when there are not any other form of transportation available: car, bus, bike... With an allegorical title, our journey becomes a reflection of human behaviour in the contested world in which we live. At a time of frivolous consumption and fear of the 'other', we wrote a story of humility, generosity and trust between strangers.