'Colette the Artist' Pig Is Exactly What 2020 Needs Right Now

Mexican artist Colette has dabbled in Cubism, installations and conceptual and video art. She aspires for her work to be seen at one of Latin America's (and the world's) most innovative art museums, Museo Jumex in Mexico City. Along with many other creatives before her, she's found inspiration in Baja California Sur's artist haven Todos Santos, with its light, free thinking and raw, rugged beauty.

Colette calls herself a feminist, a thinker—an artist of the world. She's even made a name for herself being a bit mischievous with fellow contemporaries, living up to some life advice from her namesake, French novelist Colette: "You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm."

Colette has owned up to stealing Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan's America sculpture, an 18-karat-gold functioning toilet that was found stolen from an English palace in 2019. But the theft was a playful political statement, Colette said. This was the golden toilet shown at the Guggenheim that nodded to the excessive waste of the Donald Trump years.

Colette the Artist Pig
Courtesy of the Colettivo

Colette is a pig. And her inspiring story has been turned into a documentary short film, "Colette the Artist," that's an official selection of the annual Mill Valley Film Festival in California, which celebrated its closing night on October 18. The MVFF returned for its 43rd year, but as its first-ever drive-in and virtual festival in a year no one saw coming. So it's only fitting that a film about an artist pig has captured attention and hearts as well.

If 2020 is the year when anything can and has happened, couldn't it be the year for a suspension of disbelief that a pig can be an artist? "Colette the Artist" offers a downtrodden world hope that 2020 still can hold joy and possibilities.

Welcome to the Hotelito, Such an Inspiring Place

Like many previous artists who sought out inspiration in transience and among the well trodden, Colette lives in a hotel. She's happy that tourists flock to the Eagles-made-famous Hotel California, which is also in Todos Santos, because she's found a quieter place to think (and maybe to wallow a bit in the mud) at her artist residence at the Hotelito.

Welcome to the Hotelito
The Hotelito is in Baja California Sur’s Todos Santos, an artistic oasis as well as a natural one. In this otherwise arid desert landscape, an underground aquifer supplies the town with freshwater and palm trees. Photo by Irene Drago, Courtesy of Hotelito

The dirt roads in Todos Santos can lead to anything, the locals often say, and this town's power to enchant has earned it official "Pueblo Magico" status, the Mexican government's recognition for about 100 other small towns full of unique culture, natural beauty and historical significance. Todos Santos is an artistic oasis as well as a natural one; in this otherwise arid desert landscape, an underground aquifer supplies the town with freshwater and palm trees.

Colette's aware she's won the lottery of life living in Todos Santos; she was rescued by the Hotelito's faithful gardener, Javier Leon Dominguez (Don Javier), who saved her from being eaten by wild coyotes or becoming bacon. Don Javier hoped that the little piglet he rescued would cheer up the hotel's owner, Jenny Armit, a British immigrant and former interior designer who moved to Todos Santos 17 years ago.

Armit has used her interior design chops to curate an effortlessly stylish space that's a blend of bold Mexican color and contemporary architecture. The hotel has been featured in numerous design magazines in the 12 years since it opened. Armit describes it as not fitting into one style; rather, it evokes a "philosophy of life" and caters to those looking for inspiration outside of the flat, sterile hotels in the surrounding region.

In what Armit describes as a space for creative thinking (her home is also on the hotel's property) with "European sensibilities but a real reverence to Mexico," she's found a way to not only spot but save talent. All her animals on the hotel's desert farm are rescues: horses, donkeys, goats and more. But Colette is the one she saw had a burgeoning artistic talent as a wee piglet.

Colette the Artist Pig's Hero Don Javier
Colette's hero is Javier Leon Dominguez (or Don Javier to her), who rescued her from becoming bacon. Photo by Kathleen Rellihan

Don Javier, apart from rescuing Colette, was always her champion too. "Colette is an artist. She's not just anybody. She's come to fill the void of what we're all missing," he says in the film's opening scene. He's also nurtured and encouraged her talent, bringing her paints and even installing Wi-Fi in her pigsty so she has access to the international art world.

Armit surrounded her pet with a colorful, open space to play in and exposed her to art from all over the world—Colette has a gold Tom Dixon chair in her pigsty, after all. Now that's practically a museum piece. Armit not only fueled Colette's hunger and imagination; she also gave her a voice. (That's why in the English version of the film Colette has a British accent. Anything is possible, remember.) Armit gave Colette a voice as a way to funnel her own artistic expression, plus a bit of lightheartedness during the constant stream of doom-filled news days.

"It's an essential childlike quality you have to tap into in order to survive all this nasty stuff going on in the world," Armit said, speaking about believing her pig is a true artist.

Colette the Artist Pig at Home
The Hotelito's owner, Jenny Armit, with Colette. Photo by Christian Banfield / Courtesy of Jenny Armit

The Colettivo Create Light and Levity in Dark Times

A 15-minute documentary, "Colette the Artist" was created by Armit's fellow creatives in Todos Santos, a group calling themselves the Colettivo. This collective of filmmakers, artists, musicians, magic makers, video wizards and animal lovers banded together to bring a bit of joy and levity to the world during less than inspiring times. The film suggests that through a suspension of disbelief a pig can be a modern artist, and it nods to the power of possibilities, inspiration and inclusion.

The Colettivo Behind the Colette the Artist
Members of the Colettivo, the group behind the short film "Colette the Artist." Photo by Susan Johannsen / Courtesy of the Colettivo

Did you know that pigs are considered the fifth-most intelligent animal in the world—even more intelligent than a dog? It's been reported that pigs are capable of playing video games with more focus and success than chimpanzees have. Armit found they can also be very sensitive and emotional, as she confirmed with her vet after she found Colette in tears after being scolded. So it's no surprise these mudslinging farm animals can be artists too, as Colette shows.

The Colettivo includes an impressive mix of creatives, including award-winning American filmmaker Lisa F. Jackson, who lives in Todos Santos and who, along with Sarah Teale, made the 2018 film Patrimonio. Premiering at the Berlin Film Festival, Patrimonio is a documentary showing the dark and dangerous side of rampant, unsustainable development in destroying ecosystems and time-honored ways of life in Todos Santos. But it also shows the power of this strong coastal community as it bands together to stop it.

Colette the Artist's Homage to
Colette's homage to Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan's famed duct-taped-banana sculpture, which sold for $120,000.

The Colettivo also includes American painter Michael Cope who opened the Galeria de Todos Santos in 1994, the first gallery in Southern Baja to represent a group of artists in different mediums. Cope's mission has always been to represent and mentor as many Mexican artists as foreign ones. Erick Ochoa, the Mexican artist who helps Cope run the gallery, was born in Mexico City, and his artistic talent helped get him plucked from his father's carpentry shop in Todos Santos to work in Cope's gallery. Now, Ochoa is an acclaimed painter and president of the Palapa Society, a nonprofit whose mandate is to improve the lives of Todos Santos' children.

Cope's gallery features some of Mexico's best artists, so he was intrigued to make a studio visit to Collette's pigsty. He makes an appearance in the film to hear more about Colette's video art. We won't spoil it for you, but this art uses a bit of magical realism to pay homage to the raw, natural beauty of this wild desert-meets-sea town and its affinity for reinvention.

The Pig-anthropy of Colette

Who is Colette? "She's a feminist, a purposeful pig; she's what's called a pig-anthropist. She likes to eat, sleep and do good things and be useful," says her Armit, her proud owner and mentor. Colette, at the ripe age of 2, already wants her art to be meaningful and purposeful, especially in these dark times.

Colette the Pig Artwork
Artwork by Zoe Elton / Image Courtesy of Hotelito

Being the self-claimed "pig-anthropist" that Colette is, she wants her film to bring light to the Padrino Foundation, an organization that lifts up the children of Todos Santos, providing free health care to those in need, just as Colette's nurturers did for her. The Colettivo hopes those who watch the film on Colette's website (following the film festival's screening) will donate to the foundation. The world premiere of "Colette the Artist" in Todos Santos raised over $15,000 for the townspeople, who are struggling during the coronavirus pandemic, and another $15,000 for the foundation.

"Todos Santos is a truly unique community that welcomes collaboration between Mexican residents and what I like to call 'foreign-born locals'," says the Padrino Foundation president Jamie Kelly, who has made Todos Santos a second home for over 13 years. "Todos Santeños teach us how to properly relax and embrace life in Baja California Sur and in return, we work to extend and preserve that well-being for everyone in our community."

The Cycle of Inspiration Plays On in Todos Santos

While Todos Santos is full of "foreign-born locals" (immigrants from other countries), there are Mexicans creating new and exciting art here as well. Leo Villalobos, a 20-something musician from Celaya, Guanajuato, represents the younger generation that came to Todos Santos from other areas in Mexico, seeking a creative place outside of larger cities. And like many others, Villalobos ended up staying and creating a home here. An avid skydiver, Villalobos found his calling was playing music after a skydiving accident grounded him in town. He started playing the saxophone with La Todos Santos Cumbia Band, a popular local group with a mashup of nationalities and musical backgrounds that played live cumbia music before the pandemic.

Colettivo Plays Music at El Hotelito
A typical evening at the Hotelito. Musicians from the Colettivo (singer and guitarist Mateo Haeck and saxophonist Leo Villalobos) are joined by artist John Holmes on harmonica. Kathleen Rellihan

A classically trained musician, Villalobos hopes to give back to the town that inspired him by creating a music program for Mexican youth with low resources.

Villalobos joined the Colettivo film project after befriending American musician, guitarist and singer Mateo Haeck, who created the Panteón 19 project in Todos Santos. Panteón 19 is a recording studio, as well as a radio and art space, that brings together musicians and creators from all over the world to collaborate.

Together, Haeck and Villalobos play a beautiful rendition of an iconic Mexican song by Pedro Infante, "Amorcito Corazón," in Colette's personal video art project (there's a film within the film), a nod to the country that has inspired them all. "Amorcito Corazón" is one of the most recognized songs in Mexican cinema, a remnant of the so-called golden age of Mexican film. The song reminds Villalobos of his grandmother, so he was proud to give it new life in Colette's film.

"Play on children, play on," we can hear Colette chime in. And in 2020, maybe it's time we listen to this pig.

You can watch the film "Colette the Artist" here, following the closing of its MVFF33 screening.

Members of the Colettivo:
Jenny Armit, Michael Cope, Jess Flood, Mateo Haeck, Lisa F. Jackson, Christophe Lanzenberg, Javier Leon Dominguez, Ricardo Madrazo, Jason Motlagh, Francois Paris, Teresa Salas, Suez Taylor and Leo Villalobos.