Walking toward the meeting of Saint Olav. STATEMENT

On June 3rd 2015, I started in Sundsvall a pilgrimage known as S:t Olavsleden that crosses through the most agnostic countries on the world, Sweden and Norway. I got Research funding by Royal Insitute of Art in Stockholm to carry out the project; there was an open call to people participate in it.  I proposed the Nordic pilgrim path as an explorational framework in which I focused on how the walking on a sacred route can influence in the individual process. A multinational group of artists, writers, philosophers and archaeologists was selected by me. We arrived to Trondheim on June 2nd after covering almost 600 kms. For completion of the investigation, I decided to walk on Camino de San Olav, a 3 years-old path in my homeland -Spain- from October 23rd to 25th.

During the process a series of unexpected things happened. As an artist, I think these events are important because they raise questions about the utility of walking as an artistic practice and my role as activator of aesthetic relational encounters. What happens when the participants are taken out of their comfort zone and their relations generated by the walking engagement? How do they envisage an inner journey? Could they understand my proposal as a symbolic performance and what new perspectives are conveyed? How are the old sacred routes are adapted to the new times?

Reviewing the past bring us to the present. In my project, I explored the significant cultural, social and environmental parallels between two paths run across the most uninhabited areas in Europe: the North of Scandinavian Peninsula and the North of Iberian Peninsula. Both of them share a comparable emphasis on ideas of traditional assets that are rooted in the relationship between human habitation and the natural environment. There are human endeavors to maintain their identity and do not fall into oblivion. For this reason, the authorities are making a special effort to make it popular again following the successful model of Camino de Santiago. This fact arises a new secular method of approaching pilgrimage: how the tourist industry adapts itself to the new times using ancestral routes for the consumer wants to live an inner and spiritual journey. The sacred manifestations are becoming a package tours. The offer is not only the spiritual dimension of the way, it is also the aesthetic experience of walking.

I am not a believer. While interested in the liminal process of spiritual passages, I have discovered that non-religious persons may experience the mystical in nature owing to the experience of beyond of the sensible world, the Sublime of the landscape. This metaphysical stage can cause an inner transformation due of a new feeling post-encounter. It is important for the development of the creative process because cool things happens: new way to work, the coming of fresh ideas, renewed courage to continue working, more knowledge of oneself… In this aspect, walking practice operates as allegorist embodiment of personal turning point: the stage of in-between before and after.

The tourist seeks a picture, a memory.
The pilgrim seeks the redemption.
The artist seeks answers.

Departing from the traditions of the artists of the second half of 20th century that used walking as one of the forms to intervene in nature, I proved the path as a place for discussion, celebration, communal eating, resting, shared knowledge, laughs and pains…. But a differential factor from the walking artists, my aim is not developing physical artworks. The process is the artwork. Art is a framework for engaging moments to effect real change. Art as start-up device to arouse the contemplation of a reality that remains unnoticed.

As a researcher, I found a modus operandis to finally conflate my Catholic background, the interest in ritual gestures, the walking practice, my personal experiences based on nature, the creation of relational meeting places and my personal family history. Art as a way to explore and to be witness of our time. There is a relationship between S:t Olavsleden and Camino de San Olav but that link is neither forged in the religious meaning nor in the mythic figure of a Christian saint. There is relationship because I have connected to them both. As an artist, I am a catalyst for reaching an symbolic exchange framework from where new experiences emerge to influence in the artistic practice of the people involved in the project. My interest focuses more on the process than the object of art. I do make art with people and for the people. I bring people out of their thicket of daily routines and I offer them an experimental ground as a springboard to develop new works created by each artist in response to their engagement of conflation the physical action with a renewed understanding of connection to their surrounding world.

This creation of a wandering community is my agreement of the art as way of life. Art production can not get away with disavowing the spiritual or the congregational dimensions of the term. In the metaphorical sense, Art is to walk new ways each time; on completion of this artwork, new questions spring up: Which paths will I walk? How will I experience them? What new project will I share who?


Juanma González