Carmen Argote

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What Is My Work About? I make art to preserve personal history, bringing to the surface our shared histories to give them value. My artistic practice spans genres and materials, responding to the Los Angeles landscape as a way to reveal and explore layers of personal experience and memory. Architecture and familiar locations act as memory markers preserving nearly forgotten narratives, adding clarity to my perspective by layering past and present. I use the act of inhabiting a place as my research, developing artwork that responds to the effect of the built environment upon my notion of self. Living in Los Angeles, a place where developers often raze the past to build anew, I make art as a way to preserve the history that connects us, even as the landscape changes so quickly. My aim is to fuel the public discourse on what our collective notions of home, neighborhood, and local identity mean.

 

Artist Statement

            By remembering my childhood experiences within the Los Angeles landscape, I trace the influences of those immediate surroundings to notions of identity, place-making, and notions of home. I explore my own immigrant identity through memory and architecture, predominately focusing on spaces that have had a prolonged presence in my life either directly such as my childhood home, or places that have been constantly talked about through storytelling such as houses in Guadalajara. I use the action of prolonged interaction with a space as a way to begin to understand it. Inhabiting a space allows me to connect to the site through use, allowing time for me to develop and accumulate daily rituals that help me understand the place through habit.

            With my art practice I want to be more able to see the invisible in front of me, a visual cultural inheritance that is intuitively understood and felt but not articulated. I look at the ways my parents, both born and raised in Mexico, communicated their personal history and culture to me through aesthetics. Last year, I took up residence in a family-owned events house built in 1890 in Guadalajara for three months. This exploration lead me to the notion of inheritance in terms of what has been culturally passed down to me emotionally and aesthetically. The resulting project, My father’s side of home, looked at my father’s longing to return to the Mexico of his youth while living and working in Los Angeles, and how that longing has manifested itself in my understanding of place, home and self. I referred to his early architectural drawings he made upon arriving to Los Angeles for his portfolio. These in-plan drawings made in the early 1980′s were all of houses he wanted to build in Mexico after we had collected enough money to be able to return and once the Mexican economy had stabilized. I began to understand my longing for place through experiencing his longing for home. It was a time and place that no longer existed physically but a mental space that he continuously inhabited through memory and through our shared feeling of Los Angeles as a temporary space.

            My experiences in Mexico led me to look inward, into the role and the communicative power of the aesthetics that create my notion of home. I first noticed these visual tools in my sister’s one room apartment space. I began to see my sister’s room as more than a messy and excessive collection of all her belongings crammed into a space too small to effectively hide or dilute them. When I was in that room, it felt like home, it was familiar. I focused on an arrangement of dolls and relics on top of a clothing trunk. These arrangements took my mind out of the designed space and into a very different, much more expansive space, I did not feel limited by oppressiveness of the box-like room connected to a dark hallway of a converted hotel turned low rent apartment complex. The end result is an excess of self-expression, the coating of one’s surroundings with the goal of carving out a positive space for the self to exist. These aesthetics of arrangement carry with them a creativity and an inventiveness that transforms structure.

            The way in which my mother arranged her home space uses a cultural visual language with expansive potential. It becomes a method of coping with the effects of an overwhelmingly capitalist culture and ultimately, as it is repeated and built upon, becomes a personal/political tool to become resilient. This is a shared aesthetic, and I recognize its presence in many Latino/Mexican American communities around Los Angeles. In my artistic practice, my childhood home becomes a site that I continue to question and remember in order to understand the lens that I see my surrounding environment through. In my work, 720 Sq. Ft: Household Mutations (2010), I looked at the influence of this shape of the space on me, as I used it to translate and understand every other subsequent space I live in.

            The notion of the architectural footprint and layout, the mental imprint of movement through a space, and the perimeter shape of home continue to be a major focus in my art making. I build from these notions outward. I tend to start in interiors of the spaces that I inhabit. I believe this is connected to growing up in the Pico-Union/MacArthur Park area of Los Angeles in the 80′s, where gang violence at the time forced me indoors except to walk to and from the school bus stop. My vantage point therefore extends outward from the intimate space of home.

 

 
 
CV
 
Education

2007 University of California, Los Angeles, MFA2004 University of California, Los Angeles, BA Residencies2009 Skowhegan School of Painting and SculptureAwards

2013 California Community Foundation Emerging Artist Grant

 

Public Art Commissions

2013-2016 Metro Expo Line 17th/SMC Station. Santa Monica, CA

 

Solo Exhibitions

2014 “My father’s side of Home” Human Resources, LA, CA

2013 “720 sq.ft. Shape Seeps Through” Vincent Price Art Museum, Los Angeles, CA

2010 “720 Sq.ft. Household Mutations” G727, Los Angeles, CA

 

Group Exhibitions

2014 “5th Chicana/o Biennial” MACLA, San Jose, CA

2014 “Watermelons, no catchies or bouncies” Commonwealth and Council, Los Angeles, CA

2014 “Million Year Picnic” Gallery Fu, Japan

2014 “Ex nihilo” Eastside International, Los Angeles, CA

2014 ‘“Unsparing Quality” Diane Rosenstein Fine Art, Los Angeles, CA

2013 “SUR Biennial” Rio Hondo College, Torrance, CA

2013 “SUR Biennial” Torrance Art Museum, Torrance, CA

2013 “Tete-a-Tete” RAID Projects, Los Angeles, CA

2013 “First Anniversary Show” Diane Rosenstein Fine Art, Los Angeles, CA

2010 “Surface Tension_LA” G727, Los Angeles, CA

2009 “Birds, Michael’s Restaurant” Santa Monica, CA

2008 “Never Ending Beginnings” California State University, Los Angeles, Faculty Exhibition

2008 “Latino Heritage Month Exhibition At Los Angeles City Hall” Los Angeles City Attorneys Office, Los Angeles

2008 “Terra-Byte 3.0” The Arboretum of Los Angeles County, Arcadia

2007 “Everything Must Go” Harvey Levine Gallery, Los Angeles

2007 “UCLA MFA Exhibition #4 New Wight Gallery” Los Angeles

 

Press and Publications

2014 The Source.metro.net. “Sneak peek into fabrication process for artwork at Expo Line’s 17th Street/SMC Station.” Amalia M. Merino

2014 Arbound /KCET. “Migrant Blueprints: Carmen Argote and the Perpetual Construction of Home.” Carribean Fragoza

2014 Fabrik 25. “Emergent Presence.” ARTRA Curatorial

2012 “Wild Cats and Meadowlarks: Creating in L.A.” The Paris Review Blog http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2012/10/24/wild-cats-and-meadowlarks-creating-in-l-a/

2012 “Gold leafing the Dream” www.blog.alexcmoore.com

2010 “New City Reader” New Museum. New York, NY. http://newcityreader.net

2010 Art News. “720 Sq. Ft. Household Mutations.” G727 gallery