Emilio Renart · 10.05.2024 - 29.07.2024

Constancy of the specie

curatorial text

Javier Villa

Constancy of the specie. The Emilio Renart archive.

Javier Villa
Constancy of the specie. The Emilio Renart archive.

Presenting the archive left to us by Emilio Renart in its entirety is an extraordinary event in the Argentinean cultural scene. To hold an archival exhibition with extensive curatorial research in an art gallery is a gamble that aims to diversify and broaden the practices of gallery and local collecting, both private and institutional, offering invaluable materials to preserve and narrate our art history. At the same time, the more ductile context of the art gallery stimulated an experimental curatorial approach within the typology, where two new layers were added to the order and visibility typical of archival presentation. On the one hand, the possibility of materially approaching these documents with dedication allowed us to reach unpublished conclusions about Renart’s practice, which would not have been present without the archive. We looked at his work again with new information to establish other hypotheses, using creativity as the best tool to manoeuvre around his legacy. This generated an unbridled, authorial reading of the archive. Finally, a third digital layer makes available various materials by the artist, such as the documents used in his Introduction to Creativity courses, a pedagogical pillar without which the artist’s role on the scene would be incomplete.

The context in which the exhibition is presented is also extraordinary. Constancia de la especie coexists with Alien, an exhibition curated by Sebastián Vidal Mackinson at Fundación Fortabat, which brings together an enormous amount of works by the artist. It is probable that both this accumulation of pieces and the presentation of the archive will never again meet and, above all, cross paths at the same historical moment. This juncture will allow the practice of an artist who had been elusive to the public and to research to be opened up and expanded to the maximum, so that it can be understood and enjoyed in the greatest possible depth.

Constancy of the species. Emilio Renart’s archive requires from the viewer a searching behaviour and an investment of time.

Material characteristics of the Renart archive

The archive of Emilio Renart was for years in the custody of Viviana Perez, an active participant in the making of this exhibition. In Constancia de la especie it makes its first public appearance.

Distribution in the exhibition hall

A. Four showcases containing mainly negatives, slides and photographic contacts of the five Integralismo-Bio Cosmos photographs taken in the 1960s. Also included are a series of records of works prior to the Bio Cosmos and another of sculptures and drawings made specifically for various exhibitions during the same period.

the same period. On the walls are four original drawings spanning a period of almost 25 years, from 1959 to 1983, in which, although there are notable changes in sensibility, a formal continuity close to the Bio Cosmos can be perceived.

B. Four panels with studies in biro, generally on administrative sheets of Obras Sanitarias de la Nación, where he was employed. Once again, these documents show several studies for the Integralism-Bio Cosmos series, some antecedents, sketches of drawings, systems for machines of his own invention and free drawings. The exhibition design replicates the shape of the prism, which will later be used for the Anverso-Reverso series of the late 1970s and will appear as a spatial frame for some of his Multimagenes. This figure can represent both the idea of spatial limit and temporal expansion. The hypercube moving from the column alludes to the tesseract, a temporally out of phase cube that encompasses each of the instants it is in, but also all of them at once.

Temporal multidimensionality is echoed not only in the quantum superposition that his Multimages might propose, but also in the cube that accompanies the sector. A self-portrait encapsulated and at the same time expanded in time that brings together, on the same face, a photo of Renart in his childhood and in his old age. It thus integrates the space-time coordinates.

C. Slide projection area showing the 1989 Multimagenes. They accompany two works from a series that Renart entitled Linea plástica experimental, from 1983. It has similar characteristics to the exercises he gave in his Introduction to Creativity courses: working on waste within a pre-established format and scale.

D. This area presents the machines or tools that Renart invented, designed and built to facilitate his studio practice, together with records of them being used and exhibited in art spaces, considered by Renart as a component of his body of work. Also included are copies of sketches and explanations of each artefact.

E. A display case with photographic records from the period of his Multimagenes, from 79 to 89. In turn, a work found in the archive is projected next to an original drawing with a crack represented that the first one did not have. To this is added a drawing that was materially cut and reassembled, a sculpture made from crumpled paper and some fragments also cut from the material works of the 1960s. In this segment we can perceive how Renart begins to work with fragmentation, the cut or the fissure, both represented and concrete.

F. Mapping the curatorial research. Two diagrams are displayed: one refers to the formal progressions that emerge from the first work that Renart catalogues in his archive, inside an envelope from 1958. From there emerges the progression of the sphere, which traverses cephalic morphology, cells, eggs, planets and craters among others; and that of the network, articulation or even cracks, which ranges from neural networks to topography. The second painting emerges from two self-portraits of Renart, one in the 1960s integrating his head with that of his Bio Cosmos and another from the 1980s seated in front of a drawing with cracks. Both open up two periods in his work with different approaches to integralism and fragmentation, overflow and the imposition of limits. At the same time, various published and unpublished documents are added to the table.

G. Three groups of works are presented in the office. Abstract drawings from the late 1950s, paintings from the 1960s, possibly cut by Renart in the 1980s, and drawings from 1979.

Species constancy.

The archive of Emilio Renart

By Javier Villa

The constant of the species, according to Emilio Renart, is the privileged use of the creativity that every human being has to face and respond to fear. That fear is none other than the fear of destruction, fragmentation, loss, loneliness, anonymity or death. Art is only one of the possible disciplines for channelling creativity.

From his writings, Renart makes clear the importance he attaches to bequeathing a memory that transcends his own life. ‘The fear of anonymity is the fear of not being remembered. Consequently, and albeit in a veiled form, it is the fear of dying. Taking into account this awareness of a deep cultural time, it is possible to consider Renart’s archive as a fourth pillar that the artist decides to transfer to future generations. The other three are his works, the book ‘Creativity’ and his pedagogical activity.

The main nucleus of the archive is made up of envelopes with photographic records that cover the period between 1958 and 1989, the year of his last exhibition. In other words, it is a complete archive in which what is left out is the result of an intentional decision. As in his commandments on creativity, archiving implies an activity of self-discovery, where one has to elaborate a past, intuit a future utility and choose in the present tense.2 The need to archive coexists with the need to segregate; it is an activity that contains both a drive for life and for death, for transcendence and for destruction, combinations that will be repeated throughout Renart’s practice, writings and life. With this archive – presented in 2024 for the first time ever – the toolkit for accessing an artist as complex as he was peculiar is finally complete.

Browsing these materials for months, it is possible to confirm that the theme that occupied Renart’s life and thought was always the self; in particular, human consciousness and its creative capacity. One of the most important conceptual operations he used to approach it was the limit. In a first stage, in order to understand the being, he expanded and overflowed its limits from the microcellular to the macrocosm, from the anthropomorphic to the monstrous, from the handprint to the lunar topography, from the epidermis to the bone and the neural networks, from the generation of life to the latent threat of destruction and death. He reached the climax of these ideas with the series of five Bio Cosmos and the concept of integralism: the overflow of the limit found its material and plastic echo in the integration of painting, drawing and sculpture.

A second stage, on the other hand, was characterised by the imposition of limits in order to exploit creativity. Towards 1976, he resumed his artistic practice by presenting

1 Renart, Emilio. Creatividad. Author’s edition, Buenos Aires, 1987, p. 72.

2 The five steps of creativity for Renart are Discovering-discovering, elaborating the past, intuiting in anticipation of the future, opting in the present tense and inventing, moving on to the act. This appears both in his book Creativity and in the handouts he gives to his students in the Introduction to Creativity courses.

He publicly presented the Convivencia exercises and developed the series of four sculptures that he entitled Anverso-Reverso. The exercises were born out of the need for a creative solution to reunite his family, fragmented by the pain of the death of his teenage daughter. It was thus that the previous integralism, under an abstract concept of the self, transmuted into the integration of the individual into the social whole, seeking ways to combat loneliness, anonymity and hyper-competitiveness. This integration, which begins with the Convivencia exercises, takes place within the imposition of limits: a single sheet of paper on which each participant draws lines from the ends to the centre, without going over those of the other (at first letters or numbers could be inscribed, but later this possibility was also limited). Anverso-Reverso, for its part, imposes a double limit: that of the human figure falling or oppressed, represented by its negative space, and that of this figure enclosed within a prism. The limit of the prism will continue in several works of his series Multimágenes whose exploration is, precisely, the infinite power or variation of creativity with a given limit of scale and materiality (such as a crumpled piece of paper, waste in a previously stipulated frame or a 20 x 10 x 5 cm block of expanded polyurethane). If each of the five Bio Cosmos sought to stand as an absolute work that integrated the microcellular and the macrocosmic on the walls and floor, the Multimagenes are nothing more than a multitude of individualities of similar characteristics that form part of a whole, of a species. This limitation of scale and materials that defines each species of Multimagenes is also the basis of the pedagogical exercises in his Introduction to Creativity courses. On the other hand, in his artistic practice of that period, the flush cut that materially divides previous works will begin to appear; a sort of game of destruction, fragmentation and reintegration of his own work. The crack or fissure represented on the work of art will also appear again and again, even on previous productions, as could be seen thanks to the archive. While these cuts and cracks could be seen as limits, they also propose a stage where the previous integralism is confronted by destruction or fragmentation.

In approaching the archive, these two stages of integralism and fragmentation are then imposed, where moments of expansion and imposition of limits emerge and the being is perceived in its drive for life and death. The question arises as to the place of an archive in an artist who goes through these extremes. Is it possible to think of the archive as a bridge between life and death, between the created and the destroyed, between the integral and the fragmentary?

Throughout his life, Renart has used science as a theoretical background to his practice. In Creativity, a book he wrote and published in 1987, which contains the legacy of his thought in written form, he quotes numerous scientists. Among them, Carl Sagan stands out, whom he chooses as the epigraph for the whole volume: ‘Space and time are interwoven. We cannot look into space without looking back in time’. Renart is not only interested in Sagan’s study of the Cosmos, but also in his ideas on the evolution of human consciousness, as can be read in ‘The Dragons of Eden’, where he goes so far as to demonstrate the persistence of reptilian3 brain remnants from primitive and pre-human eras as part of our physiology. Renart returns again and again to the ancestral memory we receive from the past and the new information we elaborate based on a transcendental creativity sent into the future. In this sense, it is not only possible to think of how he integrates the Cosmos with primitive-looking organisms in his Bio Cosmos, but the importance he gives to the continuity of a human memory.

During his first period in the 1960s, he may have been influenced by the scientific advances of the first half of the twentieth century: the study of the atom as an integrating element of matter in the universe, the advances in histology based on the transmission electron microscope or the very Theory of Relativity and its integration of space-time, as can be sensed in the choice of Sagan’s quote. In his second stage, on the other hand, he seems to return to plastic activity with an approach that is more rooted in the social sciences. In addition to the family fracture and its need for healing, there is the fracture of society in the face of the civil-military dictatorship. Although during those years one could find certain continuities linked to scientific thought (especially in the potential relationship between multi-magenes, quantum superposition and multidimensional theories), pedagogy and communication would appear more strongly, where the archive could undoubtedly also form part of a need to communicate its post-mortem history. |

Renart’s purpose seems enormous. First he focuses on telling a possible story of life from biological and planetary gestation, inter-species and inter-dimensional integration and cooperation, eggs, cells and neural networks. Then, in finding a tool for social healing with coexistence, the exploration of creativity, the multiplicity of the individual within the group. Finally, a possible history of death always appears in latency with the cracks, the cuts, the waste and the destruction.

Within the archive, Renart decides to leave only two series of self-portraits. The first, while building Integralismo-Bio Cosmos N°1 and N°2. There he poses aligning his head with the cephalic forms of the beings he creates, suggesting a transition, transmutation or integration between the human being and his creatures. In the second, Renart poses several years older, seated in front of a drawing showing cracks in the void. Each could be representing both moments already analysed. To Constancy of the Species is added a third portrait that was with him until the last moment: a cube of wood and resin that portrays his hands (the fundamental tool for his creative production), his head as a child (amazed by the mysteries of the Cosmos) and as an adult (who understands the need for social healing alongside destruction and death). While all of Renart’s work could be a portrait of the self, we could imagine this cube as his last work and his only literal self-portrait, which expands in time to integrate the totality of his own life. A black box that is just beginning to unveil itself.

For Renart, creativity was an attribute of every human being, which could be applied to any of his activities, and this undoubtedly included the research and exhibition of his archive.

view more


other exhibitions