“Time is not money. Time is the fabric of our life.”
In the early summer of 2016, the task of writing a report on artists’ workspaces was assigned to me by Marcelo Campos as part of a course he taught on curatorship and composing critical texts in Brazil. Taking place at the Casa França-Brasil and divided into six modules, those meetings doubled as experimental platforms for narrative structures and ways of communicating languages.
Among other small, arbitrary decisions made over the course of one day, I decided to visit a studio I already knew, albeit within another context. Although I may have cheated the system, what I encountered belonged to the order of the new.
I believe that visiting an artist’s studio is akin to plunging deep into the world of his concerns, experiencing the powers that led him to plan this or that project. To experience the sphere within which the artist allows us to follow his certainties and conflicts, while opening breaches for the elaboration and deconstruction of the scenarios that run through the works.
On the occasion of my very first visit to Renato Bezerra de Mello’s laboratory, I recall my awe at the spatial arrangement: a table in the middle of an empty room and three windows the view from which highlighted the whole of Cinelândia square. This time around, the following objects could be seen upon the table: grids, maps, little cylinders, buttons, small boxes, shards of colored glass and curious vintage chairs that were unlike the ones I had seen in an earlier visit.
The tidy room of the earlier visit had given way to a disarray of empty boxes that awaited the dismounting of his solo show that had occupied the galleries of the Paço Imperial to that date. In a second room stood a flat file cabinet with one of its drawers opened, although the artist pointed to another corner and a pile of sheets of very fine paper upon which were drawn countless little red dots. One of the dots on each sheet was misshapen – many of them to Renato’s eyes only. That collection of errors was revisited and would be bound along with other pads found at the bottom of the previously mentioned open drawer.
I ask whether he would be able to work there, and he touched upon the anxiety he was experiencing. He was working at home; he took a vacation from himself. I realized that nervousness makes noise in the silence achieved through the daily exercise of work. It is not easy to be organized in a time of methodical arrangement.
It is inside this space that Renato remains immersed in a solitary process, engaged in operations repeated again and again, hole punching tiny carbon paper confetti from sheets containing series of little rounds and squares both drawn and punched, allowing the layers and transparencies of the various piles of sheets to serve as a clue to its symbolic meaning.
Nothing in that space is gratuitous or extra, all of the materials around present themselves as the organism of a collection made up of series that interweave in accordance with the passage of time and the small acts of everyday life. The artist speaks of Paris, of the solitude he learned to cultivate, and shows me the archive of post cards on which he is both sender and addressee. The cartographic foundation of the immigrant wanderer’s interests. In this studio, he fights a battle with discipline itself as he reacts to the task of extending time.
The artist employs the word ‘accumulation’ more than once and believes that his collecting habit began during his childhood. As a child, he removed the stamps from the letters that arrived at the family’s Recife address, and stored them away: “All the stamps are there”, pointing a finger at some shelf. He also collected and stored his father’s empty cigarette packs in a closet.
His connection with his very large pernambucana family is a powerful one and continues to directly cast light upon work such as the letters exchanged between his father and his grandfather during the 1940s, which he reproduced on carbon, copied five times as mementos to each of his sisters. Or the linen tablecloth and napkins offered by his mother when he was preparing to move to the city of Rio de Janeiro. Samples of fabric were returned more than once to be embroidered by family members, neighbors and friends of friends. Another instance of the affective link is the Visionários [Visionaries] project, in which hundreds of plastic slide viewers containing portraits culled from family albums hang from the ceiling; said portraits are of relatives who became intimate only through the real or invented recollections of those who told him their stories.
The durability of paper, the dried ink in the pen, the fragility of the fabric, the oblivious photograph and loose snippets of the thread used in embroidery – these events are determined by the unpredictability of time. Renato Bezerra de Mello’s work is like a warning that all things tend to disappear. We must bind ourselves to one another in order that we may recognize and retrieve fragments of memory. In his eighth-floor silence, Renato Bezerra de Mello learns to create and extend intervals of time.
Revised July 2018