On a rare cloudless winter day in downtown Santiago, Dante Mardones can be found in the Casa Rosada ("Pink House"), an artist lost in a world of his own creation. The house is large, drafty and full of studios and workshops, claiming residents that include Reiki and yoga teachers, musical instrument repairers and artists. Sunlight streams through the large, rickety window that sits slightly ajar, and the sound of passersby drifts in, crinkling leaves underfoot.
Photo courtesy Dante Mardones
Inside, Dante´s studio is full of spools of metal wire, wood in its raw form, a wealth of obscure hand tools and an abundance of projects all at various stages of completion.
On this particular day, his soft-spoken nine-year-old daughter Millarai is with him to exchange frequent hugs. Her name means Golden Flower in the Mapuche language, and indeed her face is beaming.
This room is the operations base for a hefty assortment of projects. Dante is a self-taught artist and designer, trades learned through years of travel and work.
When he was finally released from high school, he says, the desire to move about meeting people developed into the catalyst of his future. He traveled the lengths of Chile, much of Argentina and headed up to Brazil. He wanted to see how things were and meet people in their own spaces. This required money, so he worked in construction and carpentry, where he met metal designers. He learned how to elaborate the designs he envisioned, and his path was set.
The most time-intensive work he creates is clothing formed from metal. Copper, bronze or nickel wire is manipulated into tiny, interconnecting shapes with precise hand tools. Wrapping the wire into various contortions and weaving the parts into a whole results in surprisingly fluid inventions. Some are formed from bits of metal, pounded into shape with miniature hammers. Each tiny, individual component is exactly the twin of its neighbor, but all of the finished products are unique. It can take months to make just one dress.
In addition to dresses, he crafts skirts, tops, handbags and even lingerie. Some of his work has been commissioned for corporate runway shows promoting a brand, such as the dress made entirely of pisco bottle caps.
Accessories and jewelry occupy another niche in his repertoire. Some of the necklaces are woven like the dresses, while others are pounded metals inlaid with a variety of brightly colored stones. There are chunky pendants, others that flow with the movement of water and a third class which all began their lives as forks. He manipulates them into new forms, detailing each with natural stones.
Another type of jewelry he specializes in is based on the adornments of the Mapuche. Included are large metal pieces that drape over the chest, delicate silver earrings and headbands made of interlocking metal squares, with dangling circles attached to each rectangular unit. Many of these were commissioned for television and stage shows in Chile.
Dante has done a lot of set design, as well as furniture design and elaboration. When an individual approaches him about work, he assesses their living space to get a feel for what they — and the room — would enjoy. Each piece is made for its specific owner, never replicating past work. He does the same for theater.
Recently he worked at the Bauhaus Centro Arte, making many of the set design and stage pieces where members of the collective performed music, plays and dance. The building had practice space, a stage, a bar and a pool table. It was a shared space where artists helped each other with a variety of projects. They were in the process of filming a pilot for a TV show that was to showcase the culture and history of Chile, when, for reasons that remain unclear, the building was seized and sold.
The new owner threw them out, and the Bauhaus Centro Arte died with no funds, and so did the show.
These days Dante can be found working on his latest projects. He started a new line of furniture in the style Línea Plana, which features clean lines similar to the Mission or Arts and Crafts styles. He also has another television idea based on conspiracy theories or the various apocalyptic tales that frequently undergird religion, myth or the occult. He’s presently in the research phase.
His favorite undertaking right now is the collection of clothing he’s just initiated. All of the pieces are made only in copper and lapis lazuli. Chile is the world’s largest producer of copper, and one of few places lapis lazuli can be found on the planet.
Dante wants to exhibit the mineral wealth
of his nation through his newest work, hence the material selection. He is seeking someone to purchase the collection prior to its completion.
He’d like to see it in the entrance of a Chilean company that does multi-national business so that it could demonstrate the beauty of his country.
To get in touch with Dante for jewelry, clothing or furniture purchases, or to commission the completion of the copper and lapis lazuli line, contact him via email and keep an eye out for his website coming soon.