Interview with Branly López - Research fellow Age of Wonderland

As part of the Age of Wonderland program, research fellow Branly López was re-invited to Eindhoven in March for a creative collaboration during the Sensiks Hackathon.
Age of Wonderland is a project initiated by Baltan Laboratories, Hivos, and the Dutch Design Foundation to foster social innovation. As part of the program, research fellow Branly López from Guatemala was invited to Eindhoven, the Netherlands, for a creative collaboration. During the SENSIKS. Hackathon, a project made possible with support of Creative Tracks, two Dutch artists worked together with two creative practitioners from Guatemala to explore how traditional Mayan culture and technology could be merged to create a new sensory reality, by using wearable technologies and biofeedback. Olga Mink, director of Baltan Laboratories talked with Branly about his ideas and discussed how collaborations between the Global South and North can be improved.
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Please take a moment to briefly introduce yourself? Also, please tell us how your background or life influences the projects you develop today?
My name is Branly López, I am a maya k’iche’ person who lives in the highlands of Guatemala. I had the opportunity to study and work on social business, spatial planning with an intercultural approach, sustainable tourism and cultural affairs for different NGOs and local organizations in my country. In the last four years, I worked as a freelance consultant in cultural affairs related to Mayan culture and art. I embrace the Mayan philosophy and spirituality (cosmovision) that promotes harmony and balance in daily life. I am active as a spiritual supporter in my town, trying to share these values with my community, as well as outside Guatemala.
I also embrace this philosophy to promote new kinds of dialogues between art, science, spirituality and economics, to create “innovative” ways of merging these fields. During the Age of Wonderland edition of 2016, I had the opportunity to take this experience to a deeper level. I am interested in promoting these dialogues to contribute to the sustainability of the Mayan culture. For many centuries and still nowadays, the Mayan people continue to resist the violence of a local and global discriminatory and racist system. I truly believe that the Mayancosmovision, as well as other traditional philosophies can contribute to foster spiritual, philosophical, social, economic, artistic, scientific and cosmic consciousness and improvement.
Can you tell us how your daily work looks like?
I usually wake up, being thankful for opening my eyes and for having the opportunity of another day. I light a candle and put some incense, while doing a short meditation, to remind me to be in peace and happy all day long. Part of my “work” is to take care of my parents. In the Mayan philosophy, parents and elders are very important and it is a duty to take care of them. So I spend some time with them before and after work.
Every single day, I go to my small shop where Mayan incenses are sold for spiritual ceremonies. In this place, I welcome people that need to some spiritual support. I stay in the shop usually during the morning almost every single day from Monday to Sunday. When I have to do some Mayans ceremonies, I go the sacred places in the mountains, close to my town. Sometimes, I do the Mayan ceremonies very early in the morning, in the afternoon or at night. This is part of my spiritual service.
During the afternoon, I usually go for a couple of hours to take care of the financial issues of a small family business. My father has been working as a doctor and thirteen years ago, he set up a small drugstore.
When I am hired to do a consultancy for an organization, I manage everything to accomplish the work and service assumed. Sometimes, I work until late at night.
My daily work has a chaotic order like the universe itself. I try to find balance and harmony amongst my activities. My daily work ends with a short meditation, lighting a candle and incense, reflecting on what I learned and being grateful for having the opportunity to service and to work.
How did you get to know about Age of Wonderland?
Some years ago, Hivos in Guatemala contacted me to share the Age of Wonderland Open Call with the creative community in Guatemala. At the same time, they asked me if I could suggest some artists for thos program and invite them to send in an application. Fortunately, one of the artists that I recommended was selected. Because of this I got in touch with the people from Age of Wonderland.
Some years later, Christine Wagner, co-founder of the program travelled to Guatemala. She motivated me to apply to participate for the next edition of the program. In 2016, I was selected to be part of Age of Wonderland ‘Big Data. Big Dada?’ edition. The program was an amazing learning experience; it is a way to make dreams come true. I learned a lot as it helped me to explore my different artistic, spiritual and scientific skills.
We never stop learning; nonetheless, we are not always acquainted. One of nature’s purposes is to always share energy, experience, beauty, knowledge, emotions, time, space, silence… And we can learn from this. Everyone and everything has always something to share, even if we are not aware. After saying this, I can also say that the project 100 Days of Learning is a beautiful way to share and learn in both a rational and intuitive ways. It is a means to feel each other’s experiences, knowledge, feelings and energy; a way to understand our personal and societal challenges, hopes, mistakes, motivations, ideas, actions. I am sure it will trigger some positive energy, urgently needed in the current environmental, societal, economic, political ‘umfeld’.
Can you describe what you learned during the Hackathon? How can this knowledge be valuable to communities or people in Guatemala?
Working with the Sensiks Maya cabin was a nice experience that convinced me that traditional knowledge and modern knowledge should come together more often. In our silly race of conquering knowledge, the rational thinking usually neglects intuition and therefore neglects also the knowledge of ancient cultures. And this, in some way, closes the opportunity for innovation.
The hackathon was an enriching dialogue among different cultural and professional backgrounds in order to “resemble” the rebirth Mayan ritual, using the multisensory cabin developed by Sensiks. The challenge we faces was to create an experience that can lead to a state of mind in a more abstract, random and “natural” way. An experience with a similar outcome as the rebirth Mayan ritual in a Tuj or traditional cabin of steam.
The process of merging bio-feedback with the multi-sensory cabin to induce a set of mind, and the application of the Maya cosmovision was an incredible learning experience that motivated me to research more in depth the science behind the Mayan wisdom.
Sharing this experience to people in Guatemala is important to promote the Mayan knowledge, especially for a new generation. In Guatemala racism, discrimination and exclusion resulted in many Mayans reject their own culture and background. So, sharing the experience could help to reinforce our Mayan identity and help to decolonize our identity and culture. The Hackathon made me reflect about the notion that knowledge as a process of personal and collective learning has been one of the most powerful traditions of humankind.
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What are the most important things you’ve learnt in starting your practice?
For me, embracing the Mayan cosmovision lead me to a personal discovery that comes from living the ethical codes that our Mayan ancestors created by exploring time and space; and the universe. Getting to know the Maya philosophy helped me to recognize there is a deep reciprocity and interrelation amongst all that belongs to the universe: earth, human beings, plants, rivers, stars.. Life for many Mayas is the unique and indivisible wholeness, where we – plants, rocks, mountains, human beings, planets, animals...- are in continuous action and reaction. We are all one. That is why I truly believe that human beings are the rivers, the wind, the plants… and that those are also us.
I learned that we, human beings, should preserve, create and re-create life, as an accumulation of vibratory ethical relations that does not allow emptiness or disharmony with our surroundings. We human beings must create sensorial, chemical, physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional relations that allow the continuity of life. It means to bring the past and the future to the present, having learned from the mistakes and bringing wisdom from the past to think the future, but taking actions on the present.
What kind of projects have you come across through your work?
In the 2016, I participated in the Age of Wonderland program where I initiated a dialogue among art, science and the Mayan cosmovision and spirituality in my project “Cosmic data”. The knowledge of the Cholqu’ij, one of the Mayan Calendars, was taken as a point of departure to explore the notion of ‘collective cosmic data’ during the Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven. This calendar embraces astronomy, mathematics, philosophy and spirituality. According to the Mayan philosophy, time and space are circular, so one just needs to remember what one has already learned in previous lives, in order to create or recreate life.
For this project, I teamed up with artists, a mathematician, curators and scientists. For me, as a spatial planner, cultural researcher, and ajq’ij or Mayan spiritual supporter in Guatemala, it was very important to re-appropriate this calendar and to unfold this ancient knowledge in a 21st century context.
It was important because for so many years, the knowledge behind the Mayan culture has been discriminated and neglected, especially in Guatemala. Even though, the project took place in The Netherlands, it was a window for some Guatemalans, including myself, to look deeper into our culture.
In the 2015, I did a philosophical research about Mayan art in the 21st century, so for me the project was an opportunity to find inspiration and to use the philosophy of my research and put it into practice. It was the first time I presented this in public.
A modern Mayan temple, with use of the knowledge of the Mayan Calendar, was created in the basement of Baltan Laboratories in Eindhoven. In this space, I invited the visitors to participate in the creation of a collective database, which would be based on their own preferred date related to their personal experience. All data collected was re-assessed in a computer program and interpreted according to the Mayan calendar, to research the notion of Toj or Karma in the city of Eindhoven. The team used the mathematical matrix of the calendar to find functions that can be used to interpret this collected data. This project was inspiring because I was doing the same what I usually do in my hometown in Guatemala as a spiritual worker: listening and supporting people.
The topic of this year’s Age of Wonderland is 100 days of learning. It’s about sharing your inner wisdom, knowledge not taught on schools or universities. What to you is the most important thing in this days of learning? What lessons would you like to share or teach others? Why?
The 100 days of learning it is a beautiful opportunity to share feelings, rational and intuitive knowledge, doubts, fears, hopes… For me, the most important thing in theses days of learning is to share and exchange life experiences that can help to create, collective knowledge and wisdom. All the things shared can trigger different perspectives and open unexpected and more creative ways of dealing with the different crisis that our societies are facing nowadays.
In the 100 days of learning, I would like to share my experience according to the different principles and values of the Mayan cosmovision related to live life harmoniously. I embrace this cosmovision-spirituality, which has helped me to find balance in my daily life.
During my visit in March I participated in the pilot by sharing some feelings and thoughts about gratitude.
Gratitude is a state of our entire memory; a state that triggers our memories and motivates us to constantly remember and feel what we have learned through our different experiences. Remembering in Spanish is recordar that comes from the latin re-cordis / re = coming back and cordis = heart… coming back to the heart.
To think and talk about gratitude, we need to travel on time-space to our heart. In order to help us to do his kind of travel, we are going to burn some eucalyptus leaves. In many spiritualties, their strong smell help to get relaxed in order to go to our memories more easily.
Let’s go to the past first: Let’s go to any time-space of our past experiences. To whom and for what would you be thankful in any of those moments? Now, let’s feel-think what those people and moments taught us?
Now, let’s go to near future: Let’s say that we will have an hour left from now, and then we will die. What would you like to do in that hour?
Let’s get back to the present: How many people, circumstances, experiences contribute to make our day possible/meaningful?
We have done this travel in order to reflect on condition and unconditional thankfulness.
Conditional and unconditional gratitude:
The first one is misleading and ephemeral and it is related to false attachments and selfishness. The second one is more a state of mind-body, a non-routine and conscious habit that can lead us to be in harmony.
If we were more conscious about, we will keep the feeling of being grateful all day long; even in the worst circumstances: seeing the learning behind the circumstances.
In order to embrace gratefulness all the time, we have to be present. We need to be conscious about the tangible and non-tangible gifts, learnings and opportunities that life offers us: the sun, our friends, emotions… We can learn to be grateful inclusive for what it is not already coming but it is already in the universe: the next thing we are going to learn tomorrow, for example.
We do not need concrete reasons to be grateful. But, if we start making a list, we are going to find many of them.
The gratefulness state of mind is the soil to not see in a tragic way the different not so “good” moments. It is the soil for patience.
Let’s start being grateful since now… because being alive is just enough to be grateful.
Let’s be grateful like the mountain that in its inner sound let grow everything.
Let’s be grateful like the flower that knows that will not last forever.
Let’s be grateful like the bird that in its fragility embraces deep freedom.
Let’s be grateful like the ocean that keeps its calm even though the waves crash in the shore.
Let’s be grateful living fully the small-big experiences of our daily life.
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Do you have any new projects coming up you would like to share? What is your hope for the future? Some final words to share?
I am currently trying to develop a collective project for an open “school” where different dialogues among art, science, economics and Mayan cosmovision & spirituality can take place. In the Mayan philosophy, art, science, economics and spirituality are one. The main idea behind this project is to dive deeper into the Mayan philosophy and to build bridges between art, science, spirituality and economics, in the 21st century, to promote a local and authentic way of creative practice, based on our Mayan identity. I believe this project has the potential to boost social innovation. For me, this project is a need to emancipate the culture that nurtures our Guatemalan society which can help to open new ways to reduce racism, discrimination and exclusion.
An interview by Hivos with Branly López on Mayan spirituality can be found here.
To get in touch with Branly, visit his profile.
Heritage (tangible & intangible), Performing arts, Visual arts

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