When does a line on a page become figurative? The series of drawings by Mexican artist Renato Garza Cervera entitled Mareas Humanas (Conflictos II) / Human Tides (Conflicts II) satisfies this question: each vertical line assumes a human body; each horizontal line provides its shadow. The drawings, created with India ink on cotton paper, represent bodies reduced to an elemental state. We require no more or less detail in order to read Cervera’s mark-making as figures in an expansive and featureless place.
Within the limited information, spatial narratives unfold. Uniform shadows give way to a flat terrain and ascend our gaze, as viewers, to an aerial perspective. From above we read each mark as equal in size and density but when read as a collective, each mark is inscribed with relational power according to their spatial organization and patterning.
Human Tides (Conflicts II) is an imaginative exercise in the study of human geography—the mapping of people and their communities, interactions and activities. Cervera’s delicately rendered choreography conjures numerous associations, namely political and social. The artist calls into question the relationship of the individual to the collective, and reversely, the collective’s relationship to the individual. As viewers, we are tasked with supplying narratives to these visual relationships. More organic formations conjure spontaneous gatherings or community-driven action while others, orderly and neat, suggest a military strategy or rigid political body. However, meaning is slippery, and the relationships between bodies easily shift when a solitary figure dually performs as leader and outcast, or the atmosphere of a collective is at once celebratory and violent. These aesthetic ambiguities reveal the desire and struggle to define systems of power through a visual ordering. Like meaning, we find that power is not inherent or stable but constantly in flux.
The impetus for Human Tides (Conflicts II) began seventeen years ago at a time when Cervera was investigating pictorial landscapes, battle paintings and genre paintings using digital collage and engraving techniques. These approaches would eventually lead Cervera to develop a reductionist sensibility, favouring the use of plain-spoken materials and the simplification of form, which he found best articulated in drawing on paper. What started as a series of informal explorations in his notebook, wherein Cervera reflected on the ways societies inherit long-standing collective organizations and formulate new ones, concluded in a 2009 exhibition of Mareas Humanas / Human Tides, the first iteration of the Tides projects, in “Les Enfants Terribles,” at JUMEX Foundation / Collection, Mexico. The complete series, composed of 106 drawings, now belongs to JUMEX’s collection.
In 2014, Cervera found himself returning to these investigations with new perspectives and routes for exploration. Presented for the first time, Mareas Humanas (Conflictos II) / Human Tides (Conflicts II) is the result of this second chapter of the artist’s study. Evidence of an ever-changing world, Cervera’s visual explorations invite us into a timeless and empty space where we may project our own realities, ideas of community and existing political landscapes and, if we accept the challenge, imagine possible futures.
Text by Sara Nicole England