Editor’s note: This is the second installment of a three-part series about the artists selected to fill the incoming Expo Light Rail’s three Santa Monica stations. To read the first installment, click here.
Riders who enter the 17th Street Expo Light Rail station might think they’re on their way to Narnia rather than Downtown Los Angeles.
Santa Monica’s middle station will showcase the wardrobes of locals who donated their wares to Los Angeles artist Carmen Argote.
Argote, who attended and now teaches at Santa Monica College, which is right around the corner from the station, asked for clothing donations from friends, family, Crossroads School, the 18th Street Art Center, SMC, and the Downtown L.A. nonprofit Inner-City Arts.
The clothes became Argote’s palette. She arranged them in all different ways and captured them with photographs, which will make up the panels on the walls of the station.
“The idea of clothes came from the fact that I wanted to represent people in a more intimate way but also be authentic to the experience of the commute,” she said. “And when I take the bus I see lots of strangers. I don’t know people individually, but the patterns and clothing stick in my head. I kind of wanted to integrate that aspect of it.”
Argote sees stories in the clothing because she knows the backstory: The Crossroads student who painted eyes onto a denim shirt. The L.A. activist who donated a lace, square shirt embroidered with a yellow rose. The poofy, blue skirt that one of her co-workers had owned since childhood. But ultimately she hopes that everyone will relate to the clothing.
“Maybe it’s in terms of using the particular items of clothing as memory markers,” she said. “Like they wore that as like children or teenagers. To identify with something they had or owned and just kind of find themselves in there.”
For longer panels, she photographed the clothing on public benches.
For some of the taller panels, she built a 21-foot-tall closet in her studio and took photos with high pixel-rates so the clothes are essentially to scale.
“I wanted it to work on different scales so if you were actually taking the Expo line you would have this very close up view of the fabric and pattern and really be able to identify things,” she said, “and if you’re driving by or walking by you would just be able to kind of see these more abstracted compositions.”
At the end of the project, she donated all the clothing, more than 20 bags to the OPCC, a Santa Monica nonprofit that assists homeless people.
Expo is expected to open in Santa Monica early next year.
Argote’s piece is called “What you wear, what you wore.”
“You really don’t get to know people,” Argote said of a commute. “It’s almost on the surface. That’s what you see first and through the repetition of the commute. Whether you’re going to work everyday or you’re going to school everyday, it’s these experiences of just seeing that get accumulated and, through my own memory, they become this expression of rhythms.”