January 8th, 2020
III. The White Boy Drawings
Addison Can you please just walk me through the moment when you asked Alejandro his ideas of your work and he said that you’re “drawing like a white boy”? I just would like this story on the record.
Renata He was literally like, this! Is your work? And I was like, Yeah, and he was like, Why??! And I was like, What do you mean why?
I was this stupid little bitch trying to defend my fucking work but on the inside I didn’t know what I was doing and he said, Renata, No! He was honestly really annoyed that I was trying so hard to be, you know like, this other person—and he was so right. He was like, Babe your work is so loud and beautiful and colorful, and all these things and then my drawings...I think that it’s kind of on purpose because I don’t want to be fucking drawing colorful abstract shit. I don’t want to do that. I kind of want to be doing these figures and shapes and forms on paper, that’s what I want to do.
Addison I think the question for me hovering around your drawings is do you see drawing as a medium to collaborate with or reflect on choreography? Or something completely apart from it? It’s not completely apart from it, is it? Because it’s kind of about drawing from the choreography and bringing it into a new medium...
Renata I can’t tell you—
A —but you can’t tell—
R I can’t tell you what I’m trying to do.
A I mean drawing as a kind of utilitarian function for creating meter and annotating your choreography, that feels kind of intuitive. I’m not 100 percent sure how I feel about it. Where you started with drawing makes a lot of sense to me. Drawing as something apart from, and to be expressively like, exploring the same things that you explore in choreography but on paper—
R I just—I’m like—I’m very scared of inauthenticity. And after Ale saying all those things I’m like, Oh my god am I—
A —The thing is, that is why I was offering you very little feedback when you were like, What do you think of these? First of all there’s only so much that I can say to a photo. Second of all, there’s only so much I could say, you just gotta keep going.
R I just gotta keep going.
A ‘Cause if you worry too much about what is “you” and what’s authentic...[looking at a photo of her drawings] I like those first two. That’s kind of nice.
R So nice.
A You know whose work I never fucked with until really recently? Brice Marden.
R I don’t know who that is.
A I never cared about this guy’s work cause it just seemed like he had such a shtick, and now I just—let me show you—partly because I became obsessed with this painting of his “Thira.” Let me show you Brice.
R I don’t know dude I feel like—
A —and then we should go out and get wine and then I’ll buy some broccoli and then I’ll make you this really good—
A —noodles. Uh, I was gonna make you noodles and tofu and stuff. I could make soup too.
R I love how you say “I’m gonna make you.” We should make a soup-y.
A You wanna make a soup? I’m down.
R Like, a broccoli soup.
A Okay cool, let’s do it. I’ll let you take the lead then because I’ve never made broccoli soup before.
R Ah motherfucker, I’ve never made a broccoli soup before either.
A I mean we could just make—
R Do you have a blender?
A Yeah I do. You tryna do all that?
R Like, blend broccoli?
A Hold on, this is Brice Marden.
R Where is he from? Oh, Gagosian! Oof!
A He’s from—oh, “Nebraska, 1966”—he’s from, I think he’s from Brooklyn actually.
R Oh cool, Brice Marden. Oof, that’s really nice.
A Graphite over pastel on paper.
R “Patent Leather Valentine” is the title? That’s nice.
A So good. I don’t know about that. This is “Thira.” It’s oil and wax on canvas. I don’t really know why it hit me but I was just like, oh shit.
R I can see why it hit you.
: 9:49 ]
Follow up email with recorded monologue from Renata:
Renata Pereira Lima < firstname.lastname@example.org >
to me __ >> Tue, Dec 15, 2020 12:16 AM _____________________________________________________________________
[Transcript of audio file)
I want to say about this fucking big white boy drawings. I'm so stuck. Because how can I tell you this? Like, I am quite, I don’t know. I’m like, OCD, and I do think systematically and in sequences. However, I'm not rational. I'm very emotional. And this I need to marry and find that identity. And understand how I can translate that onto paper. Because what I'm doing on paper right now is very rational. And rationality to me is very white boy, white boy rational in the sense of like, maybe I will even say capitalistic-like. You see the Swedish men do this. You see the Nordics? You see Carl Andre and you see Donald Judd and you see Dan Flavin: rational in the sense of like, it's excruciatingly symmetrical. Como, unnecessarily proportional. This is what's happening and I don't like it. And I don't know how to translate my anal-ness and my neatness and my confinement—I don't know. No, I don't want to say confinement. I want to say my collectiveness, and I want to say como...Ooof, I don't know güey. I don't know. I don't know. I feel a little bit overwhelmed. Because on paper I want my chaos to come out. I want my Latina-ness to come out. I want my, como, drama to come out because I'm quite dramatic in nature and I'm quite, como, sensorial and I'm quite sensual, and this needs to come out through my configurations of, or impressions of, elegance and meekness and like, sharpness and crispness. Maybe I need to do a Richard Serra verb list—pero, I need to identify what I want to do. Oh my god, I need to write this down. You see, like, Sagittarius season has been amazing. Just so many sparks of creativity. Don't you feel like? I'm gonna put this in my Bible. Okay, so this is annoying me because I'm not a white boy. I'm a brown girl with a lot of energy and a lot of like, I don't know, drive and curiosity.
Renata sent me a photo of her drawings via Whatsapp on October 29th: continuous black lines overlapping rounds and straights on semi-large paper (maybe 18 x 24 inches), laid out on the floor tiles of her studio, abutting several plants. She asked if I thought she was making progress.
I asked if she was using charcoal—No, acrylic.
I told her that there wasn’t much I could offer, especially based on a photo of 8 drawings grouped together, and that she just needed to keep going.
That the drawings could somehow be ascribed race, and that their racialization would find terminus in whiteness, is both ridiculous and glaringly obvious. My first reaction to Renata’s drawings was that they look like my drawings (I’m a white boy) and my drawings look like her ex, Andrés’ drawings (also white boy) who hosted me for an informal artist residency in 2019, exerting an influence over my work that was itself deeply influenced by the drawings of Richard Serra, Robert Smithson, Cy Twombly, and Francis Bacon (all white boys of the art world).
It is ridiculous to talk about race insofar as race is already a social construct at the human level, let alone the inanimate surface of the drawings (which are, not to mention, abstract and not referential of any human form or skin tone). And yet, we talk about art in terms of race all the time, don’t we? We categorize and contextualize art based on the artist. We say this is African-American Art, or this is Asian Art, Chicano Art, Indigenous Art, etcetera. I have never heard the term White Art, although we discuss the white supremacy within the arts and art institutions. Still, art made by white people remains default to the establishment and historical representation— the center by which all art made by other bodies orbits. Renata’s friend Alejandro looked at Ren’s compositions of black lines on paper and isolated the markers of influence identifiable as “white boy,” thereby flipping the paradigm of categorization to reveal a white aesthetic that is otherwise typically assumed and accepted.
The conversation is two-fold: if Alejandro’s comments foiled a recognizable white/cis male aesthetic in Renata’s practice, they also did the work of reinforcing the hierarchy of that white/cis male establishment that so typically looks at the work of non-white, non-male artists and tells them what to make/what not to make. If making drawings in the vein of minimalist sensibilities recalls the aura of Carl Andre or Robert Irwin, then we, as the looker, recognize the aesthetic but must cull from ourselves the impulse to continue a tradition of ascribing race to art (where it is a function of dominating the non-white artist). White art may reign as a valued paradigm, but the very same gaze that holds this evaluation tacitly in place would likewise maintain a preconceived notion of what type of art a Latinx artist should be making (political, colorful, folky, etcetera). Renata skirts the mold and is not interested in fulfilling other people’s projections on her, though she is in progress, developing a balance in her work that might find more communion with the more provocative overtones of her choreography.
Through an auto-investigation into her œuvre of choreographic videos and performance, Renata has pursued an approach to drawing that represents the nexus of her research into dance, repulsion, site, and metronome. Marks on paper attempt to chart the units of her performance, the movements of muscle, and the otherwise uncaptured actions of the body in relation to certain choreographic parameters: lines, notches, dots, and numbers. Yet, the artist receives a form of resistance that is banal and frankly, cliché. This is not to say that Renata’s work should go un-scrutinized, but the fact is that her intentions are unique and to call her work white boy-ish is reductive: Renata’s conceptual thesis is distinctly her own and if there is an aesthetic common ground between her and the minimalists, well then perhaps there is also a subtle shock taking place where the white/cis male domain has remained mostly impervious.