Mateo López, A personal transformation

A personal transformation

February 2015 - Mateo López, 2012-2013 Visual arts protégé

In mid-2012, Mateo López, a young artist from Colombia with meticulous drawing skills and a list of impressive artistic installations to his credit, began a mentorship with leading South African artist William Kentridge, whose creativity presents an innovative fusion of charcoal drawing, animation, film and theatre. The mentorship has transformed his life, López explains.

Rolex Arts Initiative: You said at the end of your mentoring year (2012–2013) with William Kentridge that he had showed you how to be more flexible, open, in the creative process. Has that been in evidence in the year since your mentorship with him ended?
Mateo López: I have to confess that my experience with William was one of the most incredible things that has happened to me as an artist. I learned to start collaborating with other people and expanding my way of working, not only drawing – using choreography, sound, performance. It has transformed the way I see myself working.

What are you working on?
My current projects are about our relationship with the technology and apps that help us to navigate our lives, to communicate and read. In our reliance on them, we are becoming like machines, and it’s as if the mobile phones we use are trying to become part of our world.
In January this year, I showed my first animated film. I started with a pair of compasses, the instrument you use to draw circles. This tool becomes a character, moving like a dancer. But it’s still a tool, so it cannot move like a human being. This is how I imagine tools that help us create life but are not alive. So the animated film was about how I draw, but it’s not a still life – it’s animated, so it’s starting to move.
Since I started working on this animation, I have tried to think further how I can use film and animation, combining them with the installations I did before the mentorship. Now I’m working with a dancer, a choreographer and a composer. We’re planning to create a performance that involves the [drawing] work I was doing, film and choreography.

What is the relationship between the way you worked creatively before the mentoring year and the way you work now?
I’m still on the edge, doing the same drawings, but another side of my brain is trying not to control the way I’m doing things. Sometimes I try to control and sometimes I try to be more open to possibilities.

The mentorship has clearly had benefits for your artistic work. Has it changed you in any other ways?
I’m more relaxed now. I must confess that during the mentorship, I was quite stressed, giving interviews, talking to strangers. But it helped me to be more open. At a workshop that I recently participated in, in Medellín [Colombia’s second-biggest city], I was invited to give a lecture and I decided to give the lecture as a performance, using images. I can’t imagine doing that before the mentorship. Also interesting is the fact that the mentoring programme gives you some social skills. Before I was isolated, shy. Being exposed [during the mentoring year] to film directors, choreographers, I discovered that they, like me, are ordinary people.
At the ceremony in Venice [in October 2013] to mark the end of the mentoring year, I was with the other protégés sharing with these incredible, well-known people [the mentors and other leading artists who were invited to the ceremony]. That somehow gives you social skills. To be able to approach Charlotte Rampling to have a conversation, I realized that this is unique. I thought to myself when I spoke to her: “Break that chill, open up and talk.”

Have you had contact with William Kentridge in the past year?
Yes, both he and I had exhibitions in July at the Museum of Modern Art of Medellín [MAMM]. William had told me earlier in the year that he was giving an exhibition in Brazil and I asked if it could come to Colombia, so he suggested that I contact the curators to try to arrange it. It was a great success in both Bogotá [where López lives] and Medellín, so I was glad to know I was part of that.
William came to Bogotá at the same time as a big theatre festival, one of the biggest in South America. William was pleased to see how vital Bogotá is.
And at the same time Colombia is going through a peace process [aimed at ending half a century of conflict with left-wing rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – FARC], with a focus on reconciliation and the victims of violence. The process that South Africa had after apartheid is similar to the process that Colombia is trying to implement. Many of the people involved were interested to hear what William had to say about his experience in South Africa. William was talking to artists and art directors about how you can use your work to transform society.

How would you describe your relationship with William Kentridge?
My relationship with William is now like a friendship. My wife and I are about to move to New York for two years, and William is going there soon, so we will meet again. I need to keep communicating with William, growing the relationship. In Johannesburg [where López went to work with Kentridge in his studio during the mentoring year], he and his wife received me as a friend, not just as an artist. So that is continuing.

What will happen to you in New York?
My wife Yanina is doing her master’s in creative writing at New York University and it’s her time to continue her project of becoming a writer or journalist. I’m going to accompany her and I will start an open studio. But I’m conscious I want to continue working between Bogotá and New York. I’m Colombian and I’ve created my network here in Bogotá, from the choreographer to the bookbinder I work with, but I’m also open to other things in New York – it’s massive. So let’s see what happens, I’m very excited.

At the start of 2015, the respected magazine ArtReview published a very positive article by Mark Rappolt about your work, linking it to architects, artists and thinkers across a wide range. Is this coverage helping your career and do you think critics like Mark Rappolt have a good understanding of what you are doing?
Mark Rappolt visited me in February 2014 in Bogotá. His interest was to have a wide open view of the Colombian art scene and he was doing several studio visits.
I’m surprised to find that that I'm on the cover [of the magazine] and with a review like that. I have to say that I'm really happy with the article… it makes interesting connections with references in a way that complement my works. My sense is that an artist’s career needs different approaches. One is to exhibit the actual work, to have access to exhibition places, the other is to have someone write about the work and introduce it into different scenarios.