susannah tantemsapya  ⟶  los angeles + bangkok   

Q&A: Cesar Garcia on The Mistake RoomKorakrit Arunanondchai and Oscar Murillo

by Susannah Tantemsapya
M Daily 
May 7, 2014

The Mistake Room is an independent nonprofit cultural institution in Los Angeles devoted to an international program of contemporary art and thought. Founded in 2012, its physical space opened this past January with London based artist Oscar Murillo's Distribution Center. M Daily spoke with its founder, curator and scholar Cesar Garcia, about how it all happened and what lies ahead.

M Daily: Why was Oscar Murillo's Distribution Center chosen to inaugurate The Mistake Room? How did it go?

Cesar Garcia:
In summer 2012, I started to conduct research for The Mistake Room while traveling abroad. I looked at different institutions, their programming, and also the studios of a younger generation of artists around the world. When I walked into Oscar's, I was really blown away. There was painting happening in a way I had never seen someone approach the medium; event-based interventions he was planning and other situation-specific works that were genuinely invested in complex ideas surrounding labor, production and the movement of bodies and objects across geographies and systems of value. The work was difficult and I really responded to that. 

Throughout our visit I knew that this was the artist whose practice embodied the complexity and rigor I hoped The Mistake Room would support and champion. I didn’t have a space yet, but I shared my vision for the space with him and my dream of what it would one day look like. Then and there, I invited him to be our inaugural show and he accepted. There was no exact timeline. We both took a leap of faith, and it has been one of the most generative and exciting collaborations. In many ways, the conversations I had with Oscar over the two years that led up to "Distribution Center" served as inspiration for how I structured the organization's program and future activities.

MD: The Mistake Room uses the Kunsthalle model. How has your background as a
scholar shaped the ethos of this nonprofit organization?

CG: I am fortunate to work at the UCLA Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance. It is an unmatched family of rigorous, bold, courageous and innovative thinkers pushing the boundaries of disciplines across the humanities; helping re-define the role of scholars and their work in public life. My curatorial practice has always been at the center of my research. Unlike other departments or academic institutions, I was always challenged and encouraged to think about my work as an integral part of my scholarship. For me, curating is a way through which ideas are spatialized; a platform in which the theorizing that is too often done comfortably from the safety of a desk. This informed my vision for The Mistake Room and the anchoring mandate of our mission, which is to create a hub for the intersection of art and thought and to support the tangible implications that result beyond the confines of the gallery space.

MD: Why did you choose the Central/Alameda Corridor as your HQ?

CG: The short answer is practical: it is an area of our city surrounded by and accessible to various communities that intersect a wide range of racial, economic, political and religious demographics. This particular part of our city is an industrial corridor; a space of constant movement and transaction that gives shape to the network of bodies, commodities, and capital that connect Los Angeles to peoples, places and histories that exist well beyond the confines of our city. It has a rich, albeit charged history, and this positioning–both geographic and conceptual–seemed like the perfect place for our program and the work we are going to do here.
"Oscar Murillo: Distribution Center." Installation View at The Mistake Room, Los Angeles, CA. Photo Credit: Josh White/JW Pictures.

MD: Tell us about the Black Box series.

During our renovation, we are going to stage a series of event-based programs to introduce some of the artists and creative makers we are working with and also to explore ideas related to regenerative urbanism–particularly in relationship to culture and creative industries. We are interested in unpacking the recent push to regenerate dense urban sections of particular cities, and the role that art and culture are playing in those processes. These programs will not follow any particular set schedule and instead function more as a series of pulses marking the first exchanges we will have with artists, writers and scholars we will begin to invite to our city.

MD: Bangkok-raised Korakrit Arunanondchai is the first artist showing at The Mistake Room after renovations. How will the space inform this installation?

CG: Korakrit will be the first artist to show in the renovated space. He will present the first installment of a new project looking at the rapidly changing traditions of Buddhism emerging as a result of its commercialization via temples and other bureaucratic entities. The project focuses on a particular Buddhist sect in Thailand. The first installment has a new video and large-scale installation that will eventually become his first feature film. Not every artist that works with us is expected to respond to the site and its particular history. In short, no, it will not be directly related to the site.

MD: Can you elaborate on the three-year program called "The Global South?"

CG: We are going to look closely at the "Global South" as a term and attempt to understand what that means at this particular moment in our history when drastic power shifts, transforming economies and new systems of governance are shaping our experience in the world. That is why we are interested in looking at the global south as a set of lived conditions–cultural, social, political, economic–rather than simply and inaccurately, a geography. Those investigations will manifest in different ways–exhibitions, public projects, publications, conferences and symposia and other event-based programs.

MD: What other programming is in the works?

CG: In the fall, we are going to present historical exhibitions of two very influential yet highly under recognized abstract expressionists: Matsumi Kanemitsu (1922-1992) and Ed Clark. These are two pioneering figures of abstract expressionism and yet their work is not very well known in Los Angeles, so we are very honored to be able to introduce their stories, their practices and their legacies. 

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