Imagine walking into a room where masses of cloth that appear to be stained with something like soot or even dirt are arranged over almost the entire floor. Huge paper panels hang from the walls, smeared with dull-coloured stains. Are these marks made by nature or the human hand? Are the surfaces weathered? Accidental? Angry? This was my response on entering the work of Carmen Argote, a Mexican artist living in the US, whose practice focuses strongly on her immediate environment, and her personal responses to it.
This exhibition, As Above, So Below, curated by Margot Norton at New York’s New Museum, is the result of two artist residencies the artist has undertaken in Guadalajara where she delved deeply into the rural and agricultural environments she encountered.
Responding to her surroundings through observation, bodily awareness, local architecture and agricultural activity, she has used materials from those environments directly in the works themselves. Organic substances like coffee, pine needles, avocado and cochineal are embedded into cloth and smudged onto paper through a process of dyeing, or applied to a support like paint. Reflecting an amalgamation of the corporeal and the spiritual in Argote’s practice, her exhibition’s title speaks to a belief in sacred geometry that sees Earth as a reflection of the heavens.
The scale of the installation seems to suck you in to taste the atmosphere she herself experienced. Argote’s work is a deeply felt response to her culture, new environments, and the political and economic relationship we all have with the land.
It was one of the memorable textile-based exhibitions I encountered on my recent trip to the US.
I loved the cluster of beautiful little textile collages I found by German artist Hannelore Baron at the Guggenheim‘s Artistic License: Six Takes on the Guggenheim Collection exhibition. Small, thoughtful and quite pained, they are exquisite little assemblages of life experience.
Born in Dillingen, Germany, in 1926, Baron and her family fled to New York in 1941 to escape the escalating Nazi hold over Europe. Sadly the trauma inflicted on her led to mental breakdowns and claustrophobia as an adult and she lived out her troubled life in an insular and solitary way.
Her work embodies a deep sadness, interwoven with the fragile specialness of life and the uncertainties inherent in the human condition. It’s as though she has caught fragments of things while they were falling around her and cobbled them together in a way that both reveals and conceals her personal experiences and her inner turmoil of depression, claustrophobia and life-long breakdowns.
Beautiful little works in every way.
While in San Francisco it was a treat to accidentally stumble upon a beautiful, intimately scaled exhibition of lovingly mended central Asian storage bags at the de Young Museum. The Turkmen Storage Bag exhibition highlighted not only the different designs of cultural groups but the amazing mending evident on most of the pieces. I’m always drawn to mending for a variety of reasons so I was a sucker for this one. These pieces were lush and richly coloured. So important, so useful, and so laden with meaning, that the wear and tear, as well as the repair stitching, was simply and artfully magic.
Small and thoughtfully put together, this was another textile highlight of the trip.
I love the feeling of excitement that goes with chance discovery. Seeing how others respond to life experience is always an education in itself. What better way to do this than through engaging with art?