Renata Del Riego I do think of pieces as lifecycles… I’m only there for the genesis and giving birth, and afterwards, they’re there for their own thing.
By Mary Truong December 31st, 2020
Etymology is a practice of derivation; tracing the changes a word lives through by tearing it apart, examining its origins, and then dissecting how it has been reattached to meaning. Renata Del Riego often refers to etymology in her art, and one word in particular, ‘record’, holds special significance: “A record is something you go back to. In anthropology, material culture is a record of a culture, a history. And language, recorded language, can be written or woven… So record is inherently referring to ropes and threads.” In one woven piece inspired by Andean quipus, Del Riego represents the death and disappearances of thousands of Mexicans from the past six years by creating clay knots that represent these bodies. Of the piece, she says, “This is a collective void, a collective indignation, a collective tragedy. How do you even represent it? To represent is to make something present again. How do we make these 40000 lives present again? You put them back into space.” And so the sculptures that Del Riego creates are about presence— volume and mass that creates dialogue with its vieweres.
“Your art is all about paying attention to how things fall.”
Just as words have meaning that can be changed, pulled apart and reinterpreted in poetic gestures, so do materials, though Del Riego tends to wish for material to speak for itself. She takes inspiration from Petra Lange-Berndt’s essay, “How to be complicit with materials,” which claims that materials have their own autonomy and that artists don’t have to impose meaning on material— material can exist as itself in its own presence and can still say something meaningful. This “presence” alludes to a deeper life within the material that can ebb and change, creating a life cycle. In some recent works, Del Riego hangs her art from the wall, letting material fall as it wills, and she says that she is interested in “that motion, or that pull, or that weight… More than how things fall, not just the motion of it going down, but the material falling into disintegration, decay, getting old. Falling in any sense of the word.”
Del Riego’s artwork, like most things with life cycles, is accompanied by a sensation of ephemerality. Memory is an important concept in the art she makes— another form of record. Memory is an intangible artifact of a thing in a past state, and commemoration is a means of bringing the past to present. In one artwork, titled “Portable Monument To Go,” Del Riego created a “first aid kit” that contained a number of blocks, a small duster, and a booklet explaining how to use the blocks. When the user felt the need to create a monument, they would take the bricks out and build a monument. But before building the monument, the user would have to brush off the previous life and veneration away. Here-in lies a contradiction: monuments are made to consecrate past events within a public sphere; monuments are made to last. A private, temporary monument is an oxymoron.
This contradiction is not sacrilege; it is just another reminder of what art does for people. Del Riego recalls seeing a wall of rocks in a creek during a camping trip. “The water came from the creek, and the second the water touched the wall of rocks, it went in two directions. The half of it that didn’t touch the wall, it just kept moving. And the part of it that touched the wall became slower and became separate from the creek… and after it went to the little pond, it joined the other one. If we’re all a flowing creek of water, those of us who encounter a wall of rocks, say a sculpture, it changes how we move and changes how we act for a little bit, and then we join the rest of water. But for that moment, we were changed. I remember looking at that wall and thinking, that is what art does.” This monument commemorates the moment of change: an instant where you see a sign in the mundane and it speaks to you enough to memorialize it, an act of veneration, and then rejoining the ever-changing stream of life. An act of putting together and tearing down.
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