The work of Los Angeles-based artist Carmen Argote (b. 1981, Guadalajara, Mexico) is distinguished by her commitment to process and her characteristic use of organic and biological materials—from bananas and palm fronds to chicken excrement and human urine. Often collected on her daily walks, these materials are reconstituted into artworks through the ritual actions of braiding, rubbing, and consuming, which speak in significant ways to the artist’s relationship to body and place. Argote’s most recent series, titled Mother, brings these site-specific investigations inward.
Including drawings, sculptures, and works in process, this exhibition maps Argote’s journey toward a deeper understanding of her interior self and the binaries that it holds—adult and child, man and woman, resident and exile, individual and collective. In this featured body of work, patterns of power and control are traced across cultures and generations to explore patriarchy as a learned behavior. Bringing together her interests in architecture, personal history, and psychology, this series engages with the scaffoldings of the mind, body, and spirit to consider the role that art, like therapy, can play in disrupting these recurring habits.
In the Mother series, figures emerge in states of submission, protection, restlessness, and desire, pointing to the postures that Argote assumes as she engages with her mother self and child self. Works made from thrown papier-mâché, evocative of spitballs on a classroom ceiling, reveal the artist’s attempts to nurture her ripe child within—rebellious, messy, and full of cosmic wonder. Encircling the galleries is a group of braided and bound sculptures. Intended to be held and hugged, these are the comforting objects to which Argote continuously returns, the documents of her practices of re-mothering and rebirth. Guiding words of affirmation appear throughout the installation, including the exhibition’s title, which is drawn from the phrases that Argote speaks over her inner child, “I won’t abandon you, I see you, we are safe.”
Moving from the individual to the collective, this presentation also signals a new chapter for the Mother works. On the gallery floor, a circular canvas marks a space of play where Argote and invited collaborators including her mother, Carmen Vargas, as well as Young Chung, Daniela Lieja Quintanar, Mary McGuire, and Cedric Tai, will participate in collective actions that allow the exhibition, like Argote’s work, to evolve over time.
Operating at the threshold between the physical and psychological, I won’t abandon you, I see you, we are safe gives material form to the inhabitants of the interior architectures of the self—those we project, those we neglect, those we desire, those we defend, and those we have yet to discover.
Carmen Argote: I won’t abandon you, I see you, we are safe is organized by Amanda Sroka, Senior Curator, with Caroline Ellen Liou, Curatorial Assistant.
Support for the exhibition is provided by Kim and Keith Allen-Niesen, Kristin Rey and Michael Rubel, and Ann Soh Woods and Mel Woods. Special thanks to Commonwealth and Council.
ICA LA is supported by the Curator’s Council and Fieldwork Council.