Art Spaces as Industrial Plants with Denise Lara Margules

Featured Artist, Denise Lara Margules, talks about the inspiration behind her most recent project, “Water My Plant”, in collaboration with Asylum alum Agustín Jais.

At first, my work focused on narrating family stories. I worked with super 8mm films shot and kept by my relatives. I had the idea that the frontier between reality and fiction was soft and that links that appear to be unique and personal are in fact universal. Families are living structures through which we can look at other families.

Over the past two years, I started Water My Plant, a project in collaboration with Agustín Jais that involved taking my research outside family domain and applying it to cultural institutions.

Invited by the Belgian platform MAP, we designed a strategy to create bonds between organizations in these two cultural scenes as different and distant as Belgium and Argentina.

What we believed in: art spaces were industrial plants whose structures –their architecture, dynamics, contexts– shape the construction of the cities’ legacy. These plants were living organisms in need of daily care, and if we had that understanding, we could raise empathy here and there to lay the foundations for a wider cooperative network.

So, we chose five organizations in each country and matched them into pairs. We designed Plexiglas models of their facilities and gave each of them their couples as a gift, asking them to take care of it. These models were meant to serve as objects around which we would propose experimental collaboration activities to their managers. They were handed over with a letter: “We want you to see this model, not as a representation but as seeds of the physical presence of an institution, its people and territory, planted into yours.”

Throughout the year, we acted as artists, curators and bureaucrats. We moderated the process and created works in relation to it: videos, photographs, drawings, objects, texts, and some embroidery pieces that are especially relevant to me.

Our idea had been planted, but that was not enough to make it grow. After a few months, one of the models was lost, another organization stopped answering, a third one participated without having ever understood what it was all about. The festival that had invited us had run out of money. We were running out of time.

So, we used this to our advantage. In October 2017, we went back to Belgium. We presented our work at the KVS-Royal Flemish Theatre (Brussels) and at wpZimmer (Antwerp). We made a performative installation, an exhibition, a participatory walking tour, a lecture, a fake exhibition and a gift. All these works, though unique and context-based, narrated the stories of these institutions and the failure of their long-distance relationships, with some room for fictionalizing the bonds that had not been forged. Each time we put ourselves center stage so that in the end, these stories could question how things actually get done in the world of institutionalized culture. Also asking how we could have done it another way, and who are the people who care enough to make it happen.

Denise Lara Margules at Water My Plant premiere
Sometimes though, in the process of Water My Plant, we felt untimely, pushing for those connections to take place while other events were happening. By that time, demonstrations under the motto #NiUnaMenos shook the status quo. To me, to my friends and to thousands of women in Argentina, feminism ran entirely through us. We started to ask ourselves all kinds of questions, and while I was embroidering for Water My Plant, I understood that the embroidery had to be a form of asking, of opening up questions.
Embroidery is one of those practices usually pushed to the background. Similar to cooking –my other professional field– it has been passed on by women in my family to the next generation. I now see that it is in the exchange of knowledge (either shortening distances or crossing generations) where the transfer of power takes place. And those bonds need time.
One of the works I created for Water My Plant is called Frente Cultural (Cultural Front). It consists of t-shirts on which I embroidered the layouts of the cultural spaces we wanted to join together. These embroidered patterns have some loose threads that are knotted together. The t-shirts are exhibited, one next to the other, with a stick through their shoulders making them stand upright, as women in the front line of a demonstration.
Frente Cultural at Water My Plant premiere
Last year, I made a documentary film in Cuba where I talked to a woman who had been teaching other women how to embroider for decades. This year I made a one-on-one performance where the participant and I hand-wound a hank into a ball of yarn while listening to a guided meditation about a family of knitters. In both cases I was center stage, as women should be, and embroidering is all about that: patience, practice, and presence.
Denise Lara Margules at Water My Plant premiere


To read more about this project, please go to

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