In partnership with 18th Street Arts Center: 18th Street Arts Center is an artists' residency program that provokes public dialogue through contemporary art-making.
Los Angeles-based artist Carmen Argote’s boundary-bending identity is not uncommon especially in this city of migrants. Over the last few years, she continues to explore themes of home and identity through drawing, painting, textile, photography… and now, motorcycles.
Last January 20, she and a small cadre of creatives rode on their respective motorcycles, navigating a path modeled after the floor plans of Argote’s Pico-Union childhood home and her father’s house in Guadalajara, as a way of entering into the artist’s different ways of being. “There was always this relationship between these two places and spaces. I wanted to investigate that,” says Argote, as we spoke about her project over the phone.
Entitled “If only it were that easy…,” Argote’s project had its roots almost two decades ago, when the artist’s father decided to move back to Guadalajara, Mexico after living in Los Angeles for almost twenty years. “When my family moved to Los Angeles, my father always saw it as a temporary situation. He was building this house in Mexico and when it was finally complete, he knew he wanted to move back. But my mother, myself and my sister’s lives were already rooted in L.A. It led to my parents’ separation and divorce,” says Argote. The artist’s father moved back to Mexico, he undertook a journey on a vintage Moto Guzzi California V11 EV motorcycle and never looked back.
When the artist visited her father, she saw that the Moto Guzzi was still very present in her father’s house. It sat in the living room alongside a framed drawing that Argote had made of her childhood home. “That’s when I first got the idea of doing this ride,” said Argote, “I thought about it in terms of an act of healing. If I can make this trip, I could in a way take that moment back and go on my own journey.” Instead of going to Mexico, Argote would metaphorically rewind, retracing the motorcycle’s journey in reverse, now heading towards Los Angeles.
The problem was, Argote didn’t know how to ride. Her residency at 18th Street Arts Center began with lessons and getting her license. But she also reached out to her network in order to learn about the non-technical aspects of riding. This became the performance aspect of her residency, which was staged at Griffith Park.
See Argote's performance with seven other creatives below:
Motorcycles side by side creatives such as Bill Kelley, Jr., Nancy Popp and Alexandra Grant dispensed words of wisdom that applied to riding, but somehow also to facing this journey of life.
“The first thing that you learn when you’re riding with people is that you don’t ride someone else’s ride, you gotta ride your own,” said curator Kelley.
“You’re not in a cage. You’re exposed to the elements. There’s nothing around you. This is both the beauty and the fragility of it. The fear doesn’t go away. You become more confident and your bravery gets bigger than your fear,” said artist Nancy Popp.
“Every time I go in the bike, it’s like my fear, it’s kind of hovering a little bit. But it’s okay to have fear. You cannot let it take it over. You just have to be present at all moments,” said artist Eva Perez.
As much as possible the riders were all mic’ed; Because of this, the audience found themselves in a middle of an intimate, spontaneous conversation that somehow transcended its premise. A two-hour video now plays in 18th Street Gallery allowing Argote to re-listen to her cadre’s wisdom. The wall works show the movement of the participants during the performance, while the works on the floor are the artist’s imagined applications for the training exercise she went through at Griffith Park. Argote says, “I’m hoping that when people listen to the stories in the performance, even if they aren’t a rider, they see that this work is about trajectories and journeys.”
Catch a glimpse of the exhibition and photos from the performance below:
Top Image: Carmen Argote, "If it were only that easy...," 2018. Moto Guzzi V11 motorcycle in Guadalajara, in the artist's father's house | Courtesy of the artist