“The trace inscribes the recollection of a presence that no longer exists and that always runs the risk of permanent erasure. Jeanne Marie Gagnebin“. [I]
Jeanne Marie Gagnebin
The blue line masks the face captured in the photograph and elicits terms such as ‘forgotten’, ‘unimportant’ or even ‘unknown’. On the other hand, there is something of the ‘wanted’ ad in the photograph that Renato Bezerra de Mello mounts as a poster. The portrait appropriated by the artist does not identify the woman in the photograph, suggesting, rather, a vicarious presence. Instead of revealing the identity of the wanted woman, the facial expressions have been violated to mask it. If every photographic image is a vestige (the presence of the absent one and the absence of presence), Esqueça-me [Forget Me] further evinces the ambivalences between appearance and concealment, between memory and oblivion, between the visible and the invisible, asserting itself as a shadow .
Renato Bezerra de Mello’™s photography functions as a metonym for the entirety of the Inventory of Oblivion that he has undertaken. To inventory is to minutely list and describe goods or possessions and is nearly always related to the death of a loved one. In turn, forgetting can only be analyzed in relation to recollection, both of them components of memory. In the exhibition, the artist draws attention to the trace-like nature of the photograph, of the document and of memory, highlighting the dualities implied in this metaphor.
The trace may be the fruit of chance or of violence, left by an animal or a criminal on the run. One who leaves traces does not do so intentionally, as do those who decipher them: detectives, archeologists, psychoanalysts, artists and poets follow clues like someone deciphering an enigma. According to Jeanne Marie Gagnebin: ‘traces are not created ‘“ as are other cultural and linguistic signs ‘“, instead, they are left behind or forgotten’[II].
In his exhibition, Renato Bezerra de Mello relates modes of forgetting, taking an archive found in a rubbish heap in Paris as his starting point. The archive in question was made up of colored folders cataloguing the histories of women who worked as prostitutes in France. By erasing it, the artist underscores the effect of time that acts upon letters, case histories, receipts, checks, medical prescriptions and photographs, relegating them to memory.
Covered by graphite, the documents, bureaucratic paper work and private markings of Folhas em branco [Blank Pages] resist erasure. Their accumulation generates shadows that further thwart reading, emphasized by the various densities and textures of the papers. In antiquity, tablets were waxed and used for everyday writing, for they were easily erased and waxed anew. When they were ready for re-use they functioned as blank slates or ‘blank pages’.
Meanwhile, the colored folders that stored the papers that identified and classified the subjectivities are cut up until they become fine threads in the piece called Nada, ninguém, coisa alguma [Nothingness, no one, nothing]. In generating the accumulation of colored dust, the disappearance of its traces is negated and its presence asserts itself precisely through an absence of identification (whether nominal, thematic, numerical, etc.).
Ouro negro [Black Gold] is a remnant of the process of covering the documents: fragments of graphite sticks that put one in mind of a display of meteorites boxed like small, valuable jewels. Such remains were so named because ‘“ in the days after its discovery ‘“ graphite was rare and extremely valuable.
And so pages flooded with history are covered by the graphite, rendering reading and identification impossible; folders that classified lives are destroyed until they become vestiges; the violated face is reframed, isolated and enlarged; and sticks of graphite are broken, worn and fractioned.
Thus, all of the material that makes up the exhibition has been divested of category and reorganized. Like one recomposing traces, Renato Bezerra de Mello erects a sort of memorial to these discarded subjectivities. Starting from what was rejected by an institution that had been entrusted with caring for the lives and histories of those women, the artist acts as an inventory taker for the ways and possibilities of memory. Thus, he affirms gesture against erasure. In the end, it is in the effort to forget that recollection often becomes most evident.
[I] GAGNEBIN, Jeanne Marie. Lembrar escrever esquecer. São Paulo: Editora 34, 2006. P. 44.
[II] Idem, p. 113.