VDB Asks... Camilo Restrepo

Emily Eddy

Camilo Restrepo has lived and worked in Paris, France since 1999. He is a member of L’Abominable, an artist-run film laboratory. His films have been selected for festivals including Toronto, New York and Locarno, where he was awarded the Pardino d’Argento two years running.
This interview was translated from Spanish by Video Data Bank's Distribution Assistant Dalina Perdomo.
1. Can you tell us something about your background?
I was born in Medellín, Colombia in 1975. During my teenage years, the city became statistically the most violent place in the world, but despite the context, I personally enjoyed living there. Just as many Colombians did during the 90s, I found a way to leave, as I was tired of the situation in the country and trusted in new opportunities. I arrived in Europe through a scholarship in 1998, and I now live in Paris. 
In Europe I had wanted to be a painter, but I suffered two disillusions that ended my career: the first was realizing that I didn’t possess enough creativity to paint, the second was learning about the speculative market art market, where the “unique” character of a work allows for negotiation of exorbitant prices. Despite living very modestly during that time — and therefore dreaming of a better financial future — I didn’t find it reasonable that the principal patrons of art were still the powerful and wealthy. I didn’t understand that market, which through capitalism extends the roles that were once occupied by monarchs and aristocrats. I concluded that time of my life thinking that even if I miraculously acquired the talent to be a painter, perhaps I wouldn’t have the will to enter that business. 
It was then that I left behind my art practice and found the steady job that I still have. All my artistic endeavors were over, until one day I bought a Super 8 camera — more for playing around than for making serious work. It turned out that through the process of filmmaking, I began to think that I could perhaps be more creative through film than through painting, as well as more comfortable in a moderate artistic market, where the public could access the work for reasonable prices. 
Beyond that, I realized that film allowed me to work with time in addition to space, which painting had already allowed me. I am talking about time referring not only to narrative structures inherent to film, but also alluding to introspection and memory. That’s how film allowed me to return to Colombia with a new outlook. As shown in my first three films, I returned anxiously trying to comprehend the present context of the country and the historic events that prompted a grand exodus of Colombians, including myself. 
2. What inspired you to become an artist? To use video?
Really, when I was a kid there was no artistic role model in my family and I never imagined becoming an artist. I still doubt that I am, or that I know precisely what it means to be an artist. My main occupation is not making art; I work in an office. Being an artist is thus complementary to other things, and perhaps a reaction to those things. In France there is the commonly used phrase “artiste de dimanche” to label art “amateurs”, and differentiate them from professional artists. I am one of those, a “Sunday artist,” or better yet, an “amateur éclairé” like Jean Dubuffet — who very much appreciated popular arts — considered himself. 
3. Did you have formal art training/schooling?
I studied Studio Arts in Colombia and later at the École des Beaux-Arts de Paris. I never studied film. I learned the little I know about cinematographic techniques thanks to my friends of the collective L’Abominable in Paris. They are a collective of people coming from different academic disciplines (or none) that share their passion and knowledge about analog film on Super 8, 16mm, and 35mm. 
 4. How do you balance life and art? Are you able to make a living through creating art?
I think I responded to this question in the answer above. I should add that as time goes by, it becomes more difficult to find a balance between my office job and my art practice. The evolution of my practice demands greater attention from me, interfering with my professional life, and other aspects of my personal and family life. 
I have received unconditional support from the company I work for to try to integrate my art practice into my normal tasks as an employee, but I’ve reached a point where I don’t know how to continue. I think I’ve arrived at a time where it’s impossible to properly attend to both my art and my job. As my basic financial stability and my films both depend on my employment, I must say that I don’t see any choice but to find a new balance and I’m not sure what the result will be. This thus opens up a period of uncertainty regarding what ways I’ll find (or won’t find…) to keep making films.
5. What influences or motivates you in the world?
I think music is one of the main motivators in my life.
Millions of positive things influence my work, but I am also influenced by the alarming amount of cruel and idiotic acts committed by humanity against people and nature. This difficulty in understanding the short-sighted ambitions of humans, the petty, unfair and absurd actions (including my own actions and ambitions) unfortunately influences my way of being, of acting, and creating.
6. What artists or movements are you following right now?
I wouldn’t want to answer by pointing to a movement or a contemporary artist in order to mark a contemporary moment in art. In fact, I think that as the years go by, I more carefully contemplate artistic activities that are remote in time or space. By this, I mean to say works of the past, non-Western works, or pieces created by art “outsiders”. 
Among those “outsiders”, the work of James Castle has been a great discovery in my life, although you can say about Castle the same that was said about Chris Marker: he is the best-known of the unknown. 
The greatest non-Western impact on me has been through music. 
Concerning creations of the past, I often think about the materials more than the works themselves. This is without a doubt due to my use of celluloid, which to many people already represents more of an archeological practice than an artistic one. For example, I think about stone architecture as I see so many glass buildings in our city. I think about how the gaze breaks through stone, and I like that. I think about how stone breaks through glass, and I like that too. 
7. What was the last exhibition you saw?
L’envol at La Maison Rouge in Paris. La Maison Rouge is a private foundation that will close their doors for good after this exhibition. It’s a place where works by contemporary artists crossed freely, works of raw art and objects that could be categorized as “outsider art”. The disappearance of La Maison Rouge will leave an empty void in Paris. 
8. What has been the best screening experience of your work?
I don’t know if it’s the best experience, but it was the most surprising: my first screening at the Locarno Festival, because I never thought that my “homemade” film work would reach such a huge platform, most of all one as respectable as Locarno. 
9. What are you working on right now?
On my first feature length work, in which the main role is played by a guy who I filmed in 2013 for my short piece, Como crece la sombra cuando el sol declina. Since then we’ve become friends and we’ve tried to create a fiction that draws from his own life. 
10. How do you start a piece? How do you know when a work is complete?
In my latest works, I begin a piece starting from a face. Perhaps I’ll already have something written before discovering that person, but everything comes together with their face. Christine Salem (in Cilaos), Diable Rouge (in La Bouche), or Pinky in my next film. I start with a portrait, like a classic painter.
It’s difficult to know when a work is complete. For example, when I finished my film Cilaos I thought that it was complete, but when I filmed La Bouche I realized that it was even more complete than Cilaos. I am interested in making works in which one step forward shifts every other part, even its foundations. That’s perhaps why I came up with the idea of using the same character in two films…
11. What are you currently reading? Watching?
I prefer to respond in future tense, like a sort of “wishlist”:
I would like to watch Nicolas Pereda’s work again in the next few months.
I would like to watch the next film by Nicolas Rey (a colleague from L’Abominable).
I would like to finish watching all of the work by Deborah Stratman.
I would like to read the complete works by George Bernanos.
I would like to watch the film that Apichatpong Weerasethakul is currently working on in Colombia.
I would like to read Bandits by historian Eric Hobsbawm soon.
I would like to read a book that probably doesn’t exist yet, about a Colombian bandit called Desquite. Perhaps I’ll have to write it…
I would like to once again feel the happiness I felt recently reading the book Memoria por correspondencia by Colombian writer Emma Reyes.
12. Room for final thoughts:
Congratulations to all who have read until this line! You have passed a test of great patience. Gracias VDB for asking!