Artexploración: Dreaming, Ritual and Knowledge
Based on a personal practice of oneiric exploration sustained over 20 years and academic research on Indigenous art of the Americas and dreaming, Delonis Escalante (Havana, Cuba, 1979) develops a personal artistic and pedagogical practice oriented towards creative stimulation as a tool for self-knowledge, the development of projects and problem-solving in practical life and social relations.
Being an artist and recognizing myself as an artist were two different processes for me. All my childhood and part of my adolescence I was drawing, painting and writing, without labeling myself in any way. At the age of 14, I stopped drawing as my reality changed and I began to study intensively to enroll in the Escuela Vocacional de Ciencias Exactas Vladimír Ilich Lenin in Havana. Years after graduating from Philology in Havana and starting a new life in Mexico in 2009, while studying Mesoamerican and Indigenous cultures, I experienced a renewal and started drawing again. But it was not until finishing my master's degree in Art History, at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), in 2019, that I saw the possibility of making art as a career and began to cultivate it systematically. Dedicating oneself to art entails presenting oneself socially as an artist and I was able to do that part in my own way when circumstances demanded it, because for me it is not a position to assume but a life practice that has always accompanied me.
I have had many teachers, the first one was my father, who, in addition to being a painter, was an art teacher. He never gave me formal artistic instruction but he used to comment on my childish works, the stories I wrote, and gave me recommendations on how to work. He was the first person who encouraged me to write down my dreams and, in general, encouraged me to focus more on study than on art. Over the years, I realized that he knew how difficult the life of an artist could be and wanted me to have other handles.
Pedagogical practice is a very broad field and I have been only at its margins, with a rather intuitive idea of how to share working tools for cultural projects and creative development. I have tried in an unorthodox way the classroom and workshop formats. What I have learned from these processes is that in the classroom it is advisable to ask more from the students, to stimulate them not to stay in a passive position. As for the workshops, I think it is important to be able to incorporate the baggage that people bring into the session, to consider their experiences as material for discussion, and to inquire into their concerns, trying to find answers.
The artistic practice is a basis that helps me to carry out projects, to develop personally, and to have an understanding of how the creative process takes place, so that I can then explain it and put it into exercises. In the last year, I’ve been working with people on a one-on-one basis, in creativity development and dream cultivation counseling, which is part of a larger project I have called Artexploración. In the session, I usually present a model that combines practices for sustaining creativity and motivation in each work, combined with regular dream logging. This includes detecting areas of creative blockages to deal with. Here I present an important tool, which I call 'dream harvesting,' as a way to generate solutions for artwork, projects and different aspects of life. In a general way, this method has art and literature as vehicles for self-knowledge, the development of ideas and working with memory. In that sense, I am sharing something that derives from my artistic practice and the dream writing that I’ve been doing on a regular basis for almost 20 years.
Conversely, educational practice, which calls for incorporating a large body of knowledge, is a task that brings me back to artistic practice with better ideas. Education can be indeed considered a form of artistic practice because it involves dexterity, skills, and subtlety in the way knowledge is shared.
When I was an undergraduate, the Odin Teatret from Denmark, founded by the Italian Eugenio Barba, visited us in Havana. This theatrical group performed for a week and I was especially impressed by the originality of its staging and the fact that the actors wrote their own plays, which explained, in part, the intensity of the acting. I was able to attend a session on Itsi Bitsi, where its protagonist explained the creation of the play, based on her experiences during the sixties and seventies, at the peak of the hippie boom. It was very interesting to see how a series of experiences can be taken to a theater narrative structure, with a message that transcends the personal. That's when I understood the importance of being deeply involved in the creative process.
Important sources for me have been cinema, world literature, the art of all times and cultures, especially of Native American peoples. I am interested in art criticism in general and, in particular, in the analytical model of the Native American researcher Heather Ahtone, of Choctaw-Chickasaw origin. I have found very useful contemporary Brazilian anthropology, with authors such as Pedro Cesarino or Marcio Goldman. In dream studies, I have gone through the mandatory ones: Sigmund Freud, the analytical psychology of Carl Gustav Jung, and the religious studies of Lee Irwin, particularly his analysis of dream experiences collected by ethnography in Native American communities of the Great Plains. In all these, I have found guidelines for my work.
Ideas come to me from contact with much of the global cultural heritage, which is even more accessible thanks to the Internet. Also, the moments of calm within the constant daily hustle and bustle are an opportunity to think about my projects and ignite the spark of new ideas. On a deeper level, by keeping a dream log I can have an inexhaustible source of seed ideas.
Doubt, when it is not excessive, goes hand in hand with questioning, which is fundamental to evaluating works and projects. I believe that everything we undertake must be re-examined as we go along, to see the unresolved points and work on them. Error also plays its part, not as an excuse to be negligent, but as an opportunity to learn what does not work and take a leap further. I also consider necessary the balance between rational and intuitive processes. It is useful to know when we are following proper reasoning or are subject to prefabricated ideas. Intuition, on the other hand, is a sometimes-elusive ability that comes naturally to some people, but others like me have a hard time listening to it. Art has helped me understand this. Intuition is what tells me if I've finished an illustration or if I need to work on it more.
Both in solitary artistic work and in relational dynamics, contingency also plays an important role, as it shapes the result and leads it in certain directions. Understanding subtle threads such as these and accepting them without avoiding responsibility is part of the necessary fluidity to conduct these processes, knowing that not everything is under control. My creation and work processes have changed in precisely this sense, towards flexibility, in a constant negotiation between passion and analysis.
A dynamic of expansion and selection is what works best for me. To start a project or work, I open myself to many ideas and references. I research and then I filter all that until I find a solution that I think will work. Then the adventure and the craftsmanship of carrying out the project begins. That is the acid test that requires time, perseverance and effort.
Brainstorming, alone or in a group, is a basic starting point. It sounds like a truism, but brainstorming is always a technique to break the ice and bring together the possibilities for each project. In order to keep the creative fire burning, I use direct and indirect strategies. This method consists of experimenting with exercises to encourage the creativity that already exists; inventing my own creative gymnastics and at the same time, strengthening a base in everyday life that keeps the engines of creation in motion. I try to write down my dreams and meditate to start the day. I combine the time to read, research or work on a specific task with the time to make art. Keeping regularity in all this is difficult, many times the daily routine presents itself with its own agenda and you have to do what you have to do, not what you had in mind. But to deal with that is also to flow.
My closest friends are also researchers and people interested in culture. I have conversations with them that stimulate me and make me think about my work. In fact, we are always discussing each other's projects, sometimes even helping each other with critical readings. I also have my family, who are enthusiastic about my visual works or my dream and creativity consulting. They always give me their opinion on these topics—they give me many recommendations on the promotional and marketing side, things that usually escape me.
I have recently finished a PhD candidacy project to present myself as an applicant and resume my studies in Art History at UNAM. This work consists of an analysis of the work of four contemporary Native American artists based in Chicago. My idea is to show that 'tradition' and 'innovation' are not opposites, but rather that they coexist in the visual art of these creators, from an Indigenous aesthetic, which has its own presuppositions.
At the same time, I am working with my brother, Davier Escalante Rodríguez, in the development of images for a collection of short stories that I have just finished, entitled Cinco travesías imprevistas por caminos de mundos alternos. He is illustrating and designing the book. At the same time, I am bringing to image ideas that have emerged from dreams and that I have wanted to work on for some time, as is the case with Aparición. I am also developing a new series of mixed media works (collage, acrylic and ink) that allow me to have more fluidity and explore themes such as knowledge, the body and ritual.
Between 2011 and 2012, I worked with a group of friends in the implementation of a series of workshops in Cuba for artists and people involved in cultural projects. In the last workshop we conducted, we designed a week of work for music and performance artists. The most powerful learning, in that case, was that these artists asked us for help with specific external problems, but in the dynamics their internal problems surfaced and we had to address them. This was not exactly pleasant, but it ended up setting the direction of the workshop and left the attendees pleased.
Another example of learning on the fly was when I worked on the exhibition: El Viaje de los Objetos: Exposición Internacional de Artesanías Populares 1968, in 2016. My curatorial work on the space that displayed Cuban santería objects and others from Africa, of ritual use or historical value, took me three months of research that was then combined with a creative process. The objective was to exhibit the objects in a non-conventional way and this led me to the use of dioramas. The experience taught me not to put limits on how to solve the work, and then adjust to reality.
I have talked to many people in the arts or academia and, despite the fact that the emergence of covid altered many cultural and institutional dynamics—in many cases in favor of an opening—it is still a great challenge to carry out cultural initiatives. I think that for those of us who walk in these directions, versatility can be an important tool and keep us in constant change, looking for new paths. I believe it is essential to recognize and follow the achievements of those who preceded us in each discipline and to build autonomous paths for creation.