Cecilia Cornejo understands being an immigrant in America. The Chilean-born artist and Carleton College professor has created many works of art – most recently documentary films – showing life as a Latino immigrant in Northfield, where the college is located.
But recently, she decided to do something new through The Wandering House, currently located in Lanesboro (until Oct. 7). Utilizing a former ice fishing house-turned-mobile audio recording studio, Cornejo is inviting residents to tell their stories and answer questions about what home and place mean to them.
After working on the film about Latino immigrants, “Ways of Being Home,” and visiting a town in Mexico where many immigrants came from, the idea just made sense to her.
“That made me think about, ‘What would the host community have to say about this?’” Cornejo said. “What is home for them, for the people who came from Scandinavia, Europe?”
She wanted to have people who aren’t recent immigrants share their stories. People sit in a bright blue and orange fishing shack – a fishing shack because it’s familiar to Minnesotans – by themselves and are recorded as they answer questions.
This November marks 25 years since Cornejo moved to the USA. It’s changed how she creates art.
“As much as Spanish is my first language and all my family are in Chile, as much as all of that is true, it’s also true that you cannot live in another place forever or for a very long time without growing into that place,” she said. “In that sense, in moving to Northfield, specifically almost 10 years ago, made a big difference. Not only in a way that I view myself but in a way that I view my work.”
Before the move, Cornejo focused more on her experiences. Her work was very personal. She danced. She painted. And then she wrote, and wrote, and wrote before fusing it with filming. After the move, she began to relate more and more to people in her adopted country. Others who were seen as outsiders, like a group of skateboarders in Northfield, which she filmed for another art project.
“They were from there… but they didn’t belong,” she explained. “The move to Northfield really gave me -- kind of the impetus to go outside of myself and find these other people who are othered by others.
“The Wandering House is even more like that,” she continued. “Even though Anglo, white, people in the Midwest may be the majority, they are not necessarily the people I could represent. In opening this project to the larger Northfield and Lanesboro communities, it’s more venturing outside of my comfort zone.”
With home and belonging so central to Cornejo’s work and life experience, she shared what both mean to her.
“A lot of things,” she began. “They’re very important. But I also think people can do awful things in order to belong. It’s a very tricky concept, the concept of belonging. Trying to fit in, trying to belong. It’s a very complicated concept. For me belonging… I recognize we all need to belong, and it feels good when you do, but at the same time, it’s something we need to keep in check. Throughout history, people have done awful things in order to belong or because they want to prove they belong. In terms of home… when I think about home, I think about not a physical place, but two things: the place or group of people I don’t have to explain myself, and the other home is my work. As long as I can make work, as long as I can develop projects in which I can think through ideas or things that are bothering me or exciting me, as long as I have that, I’m at home.”