2 / 7

Luís Lázaro Matos: Hotel Dodo

Cristina Sanchez-Kozyreva

On the occasion of his solo exhibition at Kunstverein Braunschweig, Luís Lázaro Matos talks to Cristina Sanchez-Kozyreva about the luxury trip to Mauritius that preceded it all, and how Hotel Dodo is part of a colourful—in more senses than one—artistic practice that celebrates queerness and sex, associates happiness with the animal world, and transforms a historical German institution into a tropical resort.


Cristina Sanchez-Kozyreva [CSK]: When and why did you go to Mauritius?


Luís Lázaro Matos [LLM]: I went there right before lockdown. I stayed for one month. It was a research trip that was supposed to be experienced like a holiday, and it was funded by the On Demand Prize, which I received at Miart in 2019. This grant is awarded specifically for life experiences. I chose to have a very generic luxury resort experience, and I tried different types of accommodation in Mauritius. I did kayaking, snorkelling, catamaran, and sailing classes, but missed out on the inland waterfalls because of a cyclone. But I was looking for this kind of couple-on-honeymoon activities. Except I did them by myself.

But most importantly, I wanted to go to Mauritius because of the dodo bird*. I had been obsessed with the dodo for three years. I found it to be quite cute, and something about its fragile condition intrigued me. We are part of this generation who has anxiety about the death of the planet and its ecosystem. We are surrounded by news about it. The dodo developed its body and skills in a privileged environment, without predators. It could not fly—because it didn’t need to—and it just ate seeds from the ground. The bird is often associated with ideas around naivety and fragility.

Of course it is also related to colonialism, like everything still is. And the resorts looked super colonial. In the Natural History Museum of Mauritius, it also says that the word "dodo" comes from the Portuguese word "doido", which means crazy. But I am not specifically interested in Portuguese, Dutch, or French settlements in Mauritius—I feel I don’t know the subject enough. It’s really about the animal. Like being a sort of David Attenborough.

Ultimately all these things around fragility in the dodo perhaps relate to what’s always in the back of my mind: the fact that historically queer individuals and queer behaviours have been controlled, pathologised, and often targeted as something that should go extinct. And that normativity still dominates. So in this context, fragility is universal.


CSK: Can we say that the queer subject is one of your main subjects?


LLM: Yes, even though I have to admit I’m not a specialist in the matter; I am not an academic. In this exhibition specifically, the fact that the dodo is completely extinct is the same as saying that it cannot reproduce anymore—which is the most important and/or base characteristic of queerness: the crisis of the narrative of reproduction. Nature didn’t make it possible. So dodos having sex in the paintings is a way of celebrating gay sex and, more generally, sex without reproduction.


CSK: How important is sex in your work?


LLM: I already had elements of eroticism in my work pre-pandemic, but that lack of physical contact pushed me to embrace eroticism fully. The worse thing that you can do during a pandemic is to go out and have sex with people—something which was at the centre of my project Une vague joyeuse with the BoCA – Biennial of Contemporary Arts, for instance.

The pandemic also brought back the ghost of AIDS, especially with the later appearance of what was named “Monkey Pox”. So a certain hysteria of sex related to the danger of spreading diseases sort of made a comeback. Many of my friends didn’t want to meet anyone because of the risk of passing Covid or Monkey Pox. For me, lockdown created a pressure-cooker situation, which then exploded into these erotic paintings and animal and human figures fucking around. I reacted to this lack of touch by creating images that celebrate human contact.


CSK: Why do you include animals in your work?


LLM: I always liked it. Ever since I populated my first solo exhibition Super Gibraltar at Kunsthalle Lissabon in 2015 with Gibraltar apes. I think it’s a very mysterious and unconscious interest. It’s probably related to the happiness I experience while drawing, which is a feeling that has been with me since my teenage years. And I always want to go back to a time when I was happy. I used to draw a lot of animals when I was younger.

For a while I also looked at how Paula Rego used animals in her work. In English, the pronoun for an animal is "it". I find it very easy to relate to animal figures, regardless of whether they have a male body or not, as it reinforces the idea of gender (and sexual) ambiguity. They are characters in an imaginary world.

People find these fantastical beings cute, especially children—they are very happy about them. So it ends up being quite inclusive. It can be strange and a bit awkward. For instance, last year, in the group show Garganta at the Centro de Artes José de Guimarães, I showed a very erotic depiction of bulls in various colours. There were lots of children who seemed quite happy, but I am not sure if they were aware of the adult content—probably not.

In this show, the animals on the murals, most of them, are those who destroyed the nests of the dodos. The rats, the monkeys, and the dogs—a somehow sexual combination. You also have aquatic elements in the bathroom, with a frog, a manta ray, and a fish. The manta ray is like a visitor from a previous show, like building visual sentences.


CSK: In contemporary art colours can be a non-subject. They are very present here. What is your relationship with them?


LLM: The Kunstverein Braunschweig has so many rooms that I had the idea of painting each one in a different colour, following a rainbow sequence. The gradient spectrum creates a sense of progression in the show, a feeling of immersion where the viewer travels from warm to cold colours and back. And of course it is a nod to the pride flag. Unapologetically so.

When I was younger I was afraid of colours. Also, I had a huge complex about being a very bad painter since school, and perhaps I still am, but at least people invite me to show my paintings. Tee-hee!

I think you need to have a lot of courage to use colour, to surpass a lot of obstacles and fears and be able to control the relationship between the colours and the composition. Many artists, curators, or collectors are proud of their black-and-white taste, and of course people can do black and white shows. But what I often see—and perhaps it’s a very unfair thing to say—is insecurity. It’s playing it safe.


CSK: How was it to install your work in this 19th-century building?


LLM: I loved it immediately. I deal very well with classical exhibition spaces. I like the succession of rooms—it reminds me of visiting royal palaces. They also have narrative paintings about the place. Nuno** pointed out a sign in Latin in the palace that reads "salvete, hospites", which means "welcome, guests". I knew I wanted to do a show about the dodo and my stay in Mauritius but I didn’t know how to structure it. After seeing that sign, I opted not to develop a narrative about the dodo, but rather decided that the dodo was going to be a hotel. Coming from Lisbon, it also echoes how a new hotel opens every week in the city, with many of them taking the place of former palaces. Of course there is also a level of humour in my work, as I am turning this historical German institution in this very grey town into a tropical resort.


CSK: How do you fall into obsessions?


LLM: It is very intuitive. My brain travels. I learn a fact about an animal. I see something in a film (lately I have been obsessing over Suddenly, Last Summer, a film based on a play by Tennessee Williams with Elisabeth Taylor and Katherine Hepburn). I talk about dating apps with a friend. And somehow I manage to bring these three things together in a narrative-space. It’s not very linear, and there aren’t any conclusions to be drawn.

My current obsession is goats. I am working on a project for the Kunstmuseum Library in Basel, and you know, goats chew paper. I want to reimagine the library as a place for sexual encounters.



Luís Lázaro Matos

Kunstverein Braunschweig


Cristina Sanchez-Kozyreva is an author with experience in international relations and strategy. She lived in Asia for 15 years. She is co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong-based art magazine Pipeline (print 2011-2016). She regularly contributes to various publications in Asia, Europe and the US such as Artforum, Frieze and Hyperallergic.


Proofreading: Diogo Montenegro.





* Which was found on Mauritius until the end of the 17th century and is now extinct.

** Kunstverein Braunschweig’s curator, Nuno de Brito Rocha


Luís Lázaro Matos, Hotel Dodo, 2023. Exhibition views at Kunstverein Braunschweig 2023. Courtesy: the artist, Galeria Madragoa, Lisbon and Kunstverein Braunschweig. Photos: Martin Ly. 


Back to Top