Xaviera López is a Chilean animator who was an early adopter of the short video app Vine. Alongside a few likeminded souls she helped reveal the creative potential of the deceptively limited platform. The challenge of packing ideas, depth, and emotion into a maximum of six seconds has lead to a new visual language that has spread across all motion-based mediums.
López creates hallucinatory, visual poems that expertly utilize traditional drawing and animation techniques in a uniquely modern way. Her animations are unwaveringly personal representations of her own mentality and physicality. They could be seen a radical explosion of the concept of the “selfie” where narcissism is replaced with thoughtful examination. Working within Vine’s limitations, she makes rare alchemy, combining instant, universal visual joy and emotional depth.
I spoke to López about learning to love social media, being an artist in Chile, how long it takes to make a six-second animation.
Christian Petersen: When did you first realize that you had a talent for drawing?
Xaviera López: My father was a very creative person, a skilled draftsman who also collected pencils and books. He would accidentally spill coffee on his journal and turn the spot into a realistic drawing, or take me exploring places where he would draw everything that caught his attention. He was a great photographer too, but drawing was a way to capture the world according to his own subjectivity. I would carefully observe and fall in love with the technique and possibilities.
I started drawing regularly at age four and tracing or copying images from books or magazines to understand proportions and shapes. When I was five years old I won the first prize on a drawing contest and walked home with a gold medal, a huge smile and—what back then felt like—a mountain of art supplies.
Of course there was a moment in school where I was labeled as "artist" because I was able to make realistic stuff and had an imagination, but it wasn't really appreciated (like sports or sciences) so it was not a big deal. More than realizing I had a talent, what was important is that I loved it. The bar was pretty high, not only because of the quality of my father’s drawings but because I was also looking at the work of people like Da Vinci or Dürer, so I knew I had to practice for the rest of my life if I ever really wanted to be great. I think it’s the love and admiration that allowed me then (and now) to overcome frustration and keep on working regardless of the results.
CP: What inspired you to start making animations?
XL: Back in art college I learned about video and different animation techniques, while developing a fascination with moving images. I found it was easier to communicate complex and paradoxical realities.
Using my passion for drawing, I discovered that animating my ideas was a process of pure joy. Literally, this is about giving a soul to something that didn't have one, and movement seemed like such a natural step because nothing is still. Every time I see something finished, I feel all kinds of butterflies and fireworks and I don’t really care about the amount of effort or time I put into it.
CP: When did you become aware of using the internet for creative expression?
XL: I’ve always been amazed by the internet. The last invention that radically changed the way information is distributed was Gutenberg’s print 500 years ago, and I think we’re witnessing the same kind of revolution on a much larger scale, which in my opinion is just the beginning. It’s such an interesting era to be alive because as most information is fully available we have to start looking for new dimensions of life.
Net Art was the first approach I had to internet and creation, so I saw it from the beginning as another medium to create artwork. I was not at all into social media because of the typical judgments we make: it’s about food, bad jokes, selfies, and a crazy hyper-curated reality, but after lots of frustration trying to make the usual path as an artist, I thought it might be a good way to achieve visibility outside of my geographical place (Chile). Social media is a tool, we can use it however we like it. This may seem obvious to some but I took a while to realize it.
CP: You started making your animations as Vines. Why did you choose that format?
XL: Yes, and it wasn’t a fully conscious choice. As I always do, I got very excited and inspired about it, and just followed this excitement and inspiration.
I was really happy while I was in college. All that disinterested experimentation, study and hard work was something I was very comfortable with. After college I worked for a few years as art director for advertising and I learned a lot but nearly forgot about my personal work. Despite feeling constantly uncomfortable about it, I thought it was just real life and I had to deal with it.
In 2013, I was casually introduced to Vine by my sister and I got obsessed with the app: everything I loved and had previously done was there, so I started spending all my spare time making vines while reconnecting with all the materials, techniques, and ideas that once had made sense to me. Doing this actually changed my life.
CP: Was there a Vine animation community that you were involved in?
XL: Very much! Vine was really challenging because there were technical limitations. It was only possible to create in-app, so you had to make stop motion animations by tapping very precisely on the screen. I didn't have any professional equipment so I used to tape my phone to jars or trees and use all sorts of tricks to get good lighting and steadiness. We all had the same limitations, but there were people doing outstanding creative work and constantly redefining what could be done despite the restrictions. At that time it was a relatively small community so it was easy to communicate. Everyone was generous to share tricks, give advice, or comment on each other’s work. I felt I was part of a community where we were all doing this new thing and equally excited and obsessed about it.
CP: When did you decide to expand into making GIFs?
XL: This is such a crazy story. My kiss animation was chosen as an Editor’s Picks on Vine. This was a huge accomplishment for me, but it also meant that the animation went slightly viral (not like a meme or a funny video, but it was exposed to a lot of people). Someone stole this animation and turned it into a gif, and it was everywhere. My sister, who is really good at marketing and strategy said it was time for me to open profiles on other platforms and make myself a Giphy account. I was on my couch, procrastinating because I was very upset about people stealing my work, when I got an email from Giphy offering me a featured user account. I couldn't believe it, and that’s how I made a gif version of all my animations, that very same day, after some celebratory dance.
CP: When did you first realize that your work was becoming popular?
XL: On Vine there’s a loop counter so you can track the activity in real time. This is really silly, but I remember looking at the loop counter and feeling less alone because there was someone else looking at one of my videos at the same time than I was. Well, one day instead of one person there were lots of people and I imagined a big introverted anonymous party.
CP: Your animations are very psychedelic—is that something you are interested in generally?
XL: Etymologically (psyche-mind + deloun-make visible, reveal) yes, absolutely. I’m very interested in the inner invisible worlds and through my work, I try to reveal them to myself and hopefully others.
About drugs: I’m a very sensitive person and even coffee hits me twice as hard. I’ve had awful experiences with marijuana and alcohol, so I’m not into any kind of substance if the purpose is to numb yourself or evade reality. I’ll have a beer or wine to share with friends. Ayahuasca or mushrooms (I don’t even think they’re drugs), taken with a purpose and in a ritual context are a whole different thing. I did both once and it was beautiful, like a big hug from the universe.
CP: Do you see your animations as a direct representation of your mental state?
XL: All the initial ideas come from my journals. They are always about my inner life in relation to specific things I see and gather from the outside world. Everything is an ongoing self-portrait that registers meaningful things. Sometimes my animations turn out to be exactly as I first visualized them and sometimes they become something else—similar but different. It’s a great way to process emotions and experiences, because it’s delicate and focused work. Then there’s the final result, always unexpected in a way. I also enjoy how people receive my animations, which makes me see other nuances and gives me new things to think about.
I honestly have no idea what my work says about me as a person, I just go and do whatever I feel like doing. You can tell that I’m focused and a hard-worker (maybe sensitive? romantic?) but other than that, I may have to ask...
CP: Is it a challenge to express specific personal, emotional feelings in very short animations?
XL: I think that Vine has been excellent training for me to learn to say something in a very short time. At first, it was difficult for me and I guess that’s why my first vines were kind of flat and decorative. However, after practicing regularly for about three years it is getting easier to put ideas and feelings more effectively a into short format video.
About working with the personal, I’m comfortable because images have more ambiguity than words, and viewers give their own meaning to what I do and relate in their own way. I think it’s very interesting to share something personal and get to see how others view it. This is another advantage of the internet: people feel free to speak their minds.
CP: How long does it generally take to make an animation?
XL: It all starts with an idea. Then I usually sketch it and figure out how am I going to make it. After that it takes from 8 to 72 hours of drawing for 6 seconds of animation.
CP: What’s the art scene like in Chile?
XL: I’m not the right person to answer this question because my last exhibition here was in 2009 I believe, but I can say there are lots of tremendously talented artists and not that many opportunities down here as this is a very small country. The usual path to make it as an artist (or any "alternative" occupation) is to actually leave the country, but I think this is slowly changing. Here the arts field is very precarious and there is no such thing as an artist career, so you just have to believe in yourself (cliché but so true!) and keep on making the work that you want to make despite all the limitations, which is good in a way because you become resourceful and stubborn.
CP: Do you feel a part of the global new media art community?
XL: I feel completely part of it. On the internet, I’ve met many talented and cool people that I share similar ideas and visions with and we talk very often. I’d love to meet some of my friends from Vine in real life but I’m at least ten hours away (on a plane) from anybody and I don’t like it. One of these days I’m just going to go visiting all my friends.
CP: What else do you do besides your personal art?
XL: I draw around eight hours per day so there’s not much time left. I’ve been practicing Yoga for about ten years now, I even did a two-year teacher training program because I wanted to know more about the non-physical aspects of it, which is substantial. I practice every day and I love it because it keeps me grounded and calm. Whenever I can, I try to do physical activities such as walking or dancing because what I do is pretty sedentary and I have a lot of energy: if I don’t move enough, I don’t sleep.
For the last few years, I've been mentoring a teenage girl to make her animations and it’s been great. I’m very proud of her! Other than that, I watch movies, read books, go to every art exhibition I can. I also listen to podcasts and write a lot, but only for myself. Once a week I go to psychological therapy which I enjoy very much in a strange way, because of course it’s not always nice.
CP: What projects are you currently working on?
XL: I’m working on a couple of branded projects, I’m doing the animations for a documentary about women filmmakers, the illustrations for a poetry book, and a music video. In conjunction with my contracted projects, I am always working on personal animations and illustrations as well.
CP: What would your dream project be?
XL: Ughh, so many but I’m on my way there! I would like to make a movie, paint murals, make jewelry, dresses, installations, everything! I want to work with interesting people and I’d love to find a way to give back what has been given to me, which I think is a lot. I feel like doing something (artistic or educational) for young girls: I want them to love themselves, to be strong and creative.
We run an online magazine, so of course, we're interested in what's happening with art on the web. We invited online gallerist, founder, and curator of Digital Sweat Gallery, Christian Petersen, to write a bi-monthly column for us. Every other Wednesday he selects a Web Artist of the Week.
(All images courtesy of the artist.)