Artist talks new piece in the Visual Arts Center, abstraction, insects as material

Ariana Arredondo

Cochineal insects and lemon juice dripped down the wall as artist Carmen Argote worked on her piece in the Visual Arts Center.

Argote’s work, titled “Me at Market” is an abstract piece made from lemon juice, linen, paper and cochineal insects, which can be ground up and boiled to make a natural dye called carmine. Argote worked on “Me at Market” throughout the winter break from Jan. 4 until opening on Jan. 24. Argote used the Visual Arts Center as her art studio to work on the piece. The exhibit will be open until March 6.

The Daily Texan spoke with Argote about the process and inspiration behind “Me at Market.” 

The Daily Texan: Where did the inspiration for the title, “Me at Market” come from?

Carmen Argote: A lot of my thinking process comes from walking. I had been thinking about how an artist is consumed. I had been reading about the economics of how artwork is bought and sold. How do you keep the artwork, with integrity, how do you make work that functions as artwork in all these different contexts and how does the market eat up artists? I was thinking about this idea of a meat market when I saw a sign (that said ‘Meat Market’). I saw the spacing was just a little off and I was like, “Oh, it’s ‘Me at Market.’”

DT: How did you learn how to use cochineal and other natural materials?

CA: When I first started using it I experimented with fabric dying, but then trying to get it to stick to paper and work with paper is a learning process. It’s like a lot of trying new things. It has this range, this charge, as opposed to using something like beets (which) are the same color, (but) it’s a completely different charge even though they’re both natural. This felt more alive through the whole process, everything from the smell to the clean up, to the way it rotted. 

DT: You said you inhabited this space as your art studio. So, how did creating this piece at UT and watching students coming and going in the building affect your process?

CA: When I was using the space it was winter break, so I didn’t have much traffic. It was interesting that first day of students being back. It was interesting for me to be able to see how the piece functioned and how people were receiving it and looking through the glass and coming in. I’m hoping it can be used as a starting point to build conversations about everything from revealing gravity to abstraction to material charge. I think the potential for expanding conversation in this context is really exciting.

DT: What kind of advice would you have for prospective artists?

CA: Something that I’ve noticed in thinking about education and art education is that I think back and I realized that I didn’t know what kind of artist I was going to be. Follow your gut, think with your body and let yourself be surprised. Don’t try to have all the answers before you start a piece because it’s impossible, if you have all the answers before you start a piece it’s not going to be super interesting.