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Exhibition Review: Be Loved at Primary

14 November 21 words: Thomas Cobbett
photos: Craig Kirk

Be Loved allows a playful and personal glance into Carmen Argote’s digestion of a space, in dialogue with each environment she inhabits. Developed through a residency at Primary, and including pieces previously crafted in Los Angeles, this exhibition encompasses works on paper, video, and sculpture. We take a look at the expansive new project...

As I walk through Primary to view Be Loved, the first UK solo exhibition by Argote (b. 1981, Guadalajara, México), my interest is piqued by the various small figures resting against the walls. The braided models stand only a few feet high as they welcome you in, petite ushers fashioned from braided paper, plastic, and feather. The playful forms open the exhibition with a nod to the boundary of performance and sculpture; Argote’s practise revolves around action-ritual, and the process of making these friends feels just as important as where they stand now. 

The main exhibition space hosts three stretches of paper, works made in situ which now line the expansive floor. The silhouettes of three figures stain the surfaces in a row and as I step back to view the piece, I can see the origin of these marks through the window which overlooks the old playground. Each one is a vibrant rubbing of the hopscotch from when Primary used to be a school, and at its crest rests another braided creature, battered by the elements having finished its playtime. The paper acts as a bridge between body and architecture, poetically tying together a notion of the self and inner child to the building which the work is drawing upon. 

Argote becomes fascinated with the transference of matter; as she uses crayons to create rubbings from the cemetery, the clump of wax comes to resemble a strawberry

Beside the pieces on the floor, there is a video projection comprising of ritual-actions taking place in one of the biggest and oldest cemeteries in LA, documenting Argote as she does rubbings and performance. Argote becomes fascinated with the transference of matter; as she uses crayons to create rubbings from the cemetery, the clump of wax comes to resemble a strawberry. This impermanence of materials is echoed through the room as more clumps of crayon dot along the wall (presumably those used to make the work in the centre of the room) and play against the memory of Argote’s performance. The video documents the process of these actions looking at generational familial relationships, and the influence of patriarchal thinking, values, and violence. 

Leaving the exhibition, I walk past a braided figure that I’d previously missed, coated in feathers, and laying leisurely along a pipe by the steps leading in. While most of the materials used for the work were procured on site, these feathers flew from LA, in a coat Argote bought to brave the British weather - but with no need of it as she departed, the coat was repurposed to envelop this last figure. A sense of unresolvement is perhaps to be expected when work is process based, the props of these ritual-actions remain present because the process is never quite finished, as Argote goes on to continue this project back in LA. 

Be Loved is available to view at Primary on Fridays and Saturdays until 11 December 2021

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