January 8th, 2020
II.My Friend Ren
Renata, fresh off a flight from Mexico City, came out to Bushwick to meet me during my lunch break on a cold and cloudless autumn day. We sat down for a meal of Japanese curry, coffee, and chocolate chip cookies outside of a small restaurant and took off our masks. Somehow already mid-sentence through several anecdotes at once, Renata was off-loading copious details from her life onto me:
A revelation that she had been making what another friend deemed “white boy drawings”; Newly obsessed with liquid sounds, she was collecting audio of people peeing; Now polyamorous (or trying to be), Ren had inadvertedly developed a new perspective on death itself; A confluence of business and seduction savvy were under consideration in an effort to court the patronage of a blue-chip art collector; Something about the bible; Anything else?
Six months had passed since the early days of COVID lockdown last spring, when Renata was staying at her cousin’s place in Bed Stuy and I was jobless, bouncing between my mom’s apartment and a small art studio in Chinatown. We collaborated on a short video where I recited the 30+ definitions of the word “corona” in Spanish while she danced on-site, improvising to the coronas. By mid-April, Renata went back to her apartment in Mexico City, and I resumed work/life in Brooklyn. Now we were catching up, sharing ideas again and I was laughing—I was so happy to see my friend!
So much of our friendship plays out like this: we commune over Ren’s ideas and try to find the words to say them right. Transcribing our conversations presents me with the challenge of writing Renata’s voice into the framework of an article with ample latitude for her words to flow unchecked while respecting her own concerns to edit, paraphrase, and otherwise clean up her language. Renata’s vocabulary is highly inflected with likes, fucks (pretty much all swear words actually), and Spanish words that turn Spanglish phrases. Most of this, I would argue, is not only okay but is important for preserving a voice like hers that can operate within the sterile word-spaces of art-speak and do so with verve and doubt; doubt, being a truly underrepresented and undervalued sentiment in journalism, let alone academic or art writing.
In correspondence with Ren to edit this article and draft the clearest possible organization for our transcripts, her impulse has been to strip her language of its less intentional, dirtier, or goofier moments. I understand. But as her friend and collaborator, I have asked Renata to allow the language to remain close to the original text. In her humor and playfulness is a coded intelligence that perverts a deep knowledge for the arts and artworld, mocking its hierarchies with subtle derision (and young success). This, I would say, is proxy in the likes and fucks and Spanglish that Renata reflexively employs to describe her ideas and incessant growth of her own work as an artist.
When the artist doubts herself— I don’t knows all over, re: the “white boy drawings”— she provides for herself the possibility of invention whether in thought or in artmaking. Via this certain doubt, she builds upon trains of thought that lead to 20-minute-long monologues sent to me over email and a keen eye for the solid ground in the works of other artists, leading Ren to inexhaustible new sites of research for her own practice. In the case of Renata, doubt yields a voracious appetite. It also yields conversation with myself and other artist friends that is truly reciprocal and always striving toward new, mutually achieved modes of art-ing.
With Renata home only briefly for the holidays, I saw her twice and came away with impressions from every moment with her lingering in me, provoking me to write this.