With a single gesture, Columbian-born artist Ivan Argote throws the people, architecture and interactions within a public space into question, documenting his discoveries on video and film. Argote’s naive, approach to public spaces instantly draws our attention the behaviours of the people that act within them. His video works constantly focus on the role of the public, and their reactions to his disruptive presence.
In one project, Birthday (2009) the artist asks a group of strangers in a public elevator to sing a rendition of ‘happy birthday’ to him as he has “just arrived in Paris and does not have any friends to celebrate with.” The people are initially awkward, but choose to sing to him nonetheless. The work illuminates the strange norms of our society, which Argote can expose through his role as artist-puppeteer. His process is highly conceptual and often deals with intangible, ephemeral elements. His canvas is the public situation that he seeks out, in which his subjects are unaware of his role as artist. The ‘tools’ that he uses to manipulate the chosen public situation are his voice or body, which form the basis of the performance.
In the reactions of the people with whom he interacts, there is consistently a sense of a transformation taken place: a space of everyday life suddenly becomes a stage for performance that reveals the underlying rules and structures that govern public place. Argote reveals our willingness to act within these invisible walls. Whether it be a bus, train, elevator, gallery or street, Argote’s performance stage remains ‘untouched’ at the beginning of the work, an image of everyday reality.His interaction with this environment disrupts the order and stillness of the stage, the effect of which is expressed through the reactions of the public. Pushing his performers out of their comfort zone, Argote questions the norms of society.
“Many of my works are about living in the city and living with other people,” he explains. “I do feel it is pretentious to look at art as something separate from real life, so I try to create things from reality that not only work in a representational way. For instance, I try to mix theories from art history with real situations, real moments. Not to be away from what is happening but to be on top of it.”
Ivan Argote (b.1983) is graduate of the Beaux Arts de Paris. He has most recently exhibited at the São Paulo Biennale, as well as solo exhibitions at Gallery Emmanuel Perrotin, D+T Project Gallery, Brussels and Palais de Tokyo, Paris. He lives and works in Paris.