100 Dallas Creatives: No. 3 Artists/Curators Michael Mazurek and Jesse Morgan Barnett
Michael Mazurek and Jesse Morgan Barnett (L-R)
Courtesy the artists
Mixmaster presents "100 Creatives," in which we feature cultural entrepreneurs of Dallas in random order. Over the span of four months at the beginning of 2014, the Dallas Biennial hosted 12 exhibitions, showing 50 artists. The art of DB14 was all over the city's map, and artists were both local and international. In just two years since its founding, this event grew from a mostly online event into one of the more ambitious and interesting visual art projects in Dallas. But DB14's success should come as no surprise if you're familiar with the event's co-founders and curators, who happen to be two of the more intriguing artists turned curators around.
The work of both Jesse Morgan Barnett and Michael Mazurek tends to be rich in concept and abstraction. They're both incredibly smart artists who give the viewers avenues for thought and conversation. Which is what DB14 did as well. We chatted with them about their work as artists and curators, and whether or not we can expect a DB16.
Let's talk DB. Can you give us a brief version of the genesis story? JMB: Upon finishing our graduate studies at UT Arlington, we moved into a warehouse with C.J. Davis near downtown Dallas. We wanted an elaborate and progressing project to occupy our current and forthcoming activities. The grandiose scope of the title was a starting point, especially in contrast to the modest operators. Sometimes the limitations of a situation provide interesting adjustments.
MM: Jesse approached me with the idea and I was immediately intrigued, but asked why call it a biennial? We debated for some time about the correct format and ultimately agreed the title made sense. For the most part it doesn't matter, as we'll ultimately do with it what we want. Our first biennial lasted for two years online. This set the precedent, denoting that our take on art exhibition and display is just that, our point of view. Despite the name, we're not tied to the convention.
Why did you think Dallas would be the right place for something like this? JMB: Availability and practicality initially. It's difficult to stand in your own vacant lot and decide to build the first home in another. We have, however, considered having DB in other cities in the future. Imagining the Dallas Biennial elsewhere, such as Seoul, Dijon, or even Marfa, continues to intrigue.
MM: I really didn't think much of a right place. I'm here in Dallas and it's built into my practice to just make the thing. My students would ask me often about their ideas, my response would be the same, make it and then we'll talk.
How do you mark the success of a citywide, non-institutional event like that? JMB: I don't have much of a relationship with success. This is a difficult question, Lauren. It happened and its embedded within a cultural archive. That pleases me. If our capability to program what we want advances from iteration to iteration, that will be a significant marker. If we eventually earn the access to any artist we want to work with, that would be remarkable.
MM: Initially, the idea of starting a contemporary art biennial while having no formal experience or money or staff sounded pretty crazy, so I felt successful with each step in the process: building the website, trademarking the name, securing the first artist, then a space, so on and so forth. A big moment for me with DB12 was finding the email address for Artur Barrio, an artist who represented Brazil at the Venice Biennale. I was lucky enough to see his work in person; I wasn't familiar with him, so it was a discovery. I thought he would never consider working with two unknown guys in Texas. But he replied to my email and was kind and genuinely appreciative of our interest. As we couldn't pay to bring him to Dallas, Artur trusted that we would present his work as he would. We collaborated across two languages via email and building this trust with an artist you truly respect meant a great deal. DB has allowed us to expand upon the community within and outside our own and that feels pretty successful.
Both of you work in conceptual art, is there something about your individual practices that has been widely misunderstood by the critics or the public? JMB : Gaston Bachelard once said that "the characteristics of scientific progress is our knowing that we did not know." There is a correlation. I'm not interested in presenting ideas that require clarity in being socialized. Clarity can be over-rated and underwhelming. If there are misunderstandings, they might stem from perceptions attempting to articulate an absolute. At best, I think art stimulates a ongoing relationship with half knowledge, negative capability and agnosticism.
MM: Jesse's quote touches on this, viewers of art tend to believe that they need to understand or that there is something to be understood. This is not always the case and that's okay. Experience is essential.
Michael, you recently became a curator at the Goss-Michael Foundation, what's different about curating for an institution than working on independent projects like Dallas Biennial? MM:We're a private philanthropic organization and a good deal of our effort goes towards fundraising for charitable causes and other institutions, so the same issues of funding, timing and logistics come into play. However, as I've just begun working on programming for the fall, the most notable difference is opportunity. With DB in the beginning, just finding a way to contact an artist was a pretty big effort. Most galleries didn't care to talk to us. I don't say this to criticize them, as with anything in the onset, you're establishing credibility and this takes time. Coming into Goss-Michael, the many years of effort have been done for me by the foundation. My ideas haven't changed, but the tools to make them happen have become a lot more accessible. Also, I'm honored to be working with Kenny and Joyce. They're very dedicated to the foundation and donate their time, not only to Goss-Michael, but also to causes like UNICEF and The Staying Alive Foundation. Expanding the programming was always on their agenda, so their support in my endeavors was a given.
Who are 2-3 artists other than each other whose work you admire? JMB: On Kawara, Giovanni Anselmo, Wolfgang Tillmans (minus the abstract photographs) and Paul Graham never cease to stimulate.
Closer to home, I think Stephan Lapthisophon, Ludwig Schwarz, Jeff Gibbons and Michelle Rawlings are notable. There are always more.
MM: I'm drawn to many artists so to name only three is difficult. A short list would have to include, in no particular order: Cady Noland, Jannis Kounellis, Joseph Beuys, Rudolf Stingel, Santiago Sierra, Teresa Margolles, Jason Rhoades, Geletin, Pierre Huyghe, Rosemarie Trockel, Forrest Bess, Thomas Hirschorn, Klara Liden, Jonathan Meese, Johan Freeman & Justin Lowe, Karen Kilimnik and Reena Spaulings.
Will we see a DB16? JMB: Yes. I think what we have planned will be a pleasant surprise.
MM: Absolutely. The goal is for DB to become self-sustainable and continue indefinitely.
100 Creatives: 100. Theater Mastermind Matt Posey 99. Comedy Queen Amanda Austin 98. Deep Ellum Enterpriser Brandon Castillo 97. Humanitarian Artist Willie Baronet 96. Funny Man Paul Varghese 95. Painting Provocateur Art Peña 94. Magic Man Trigg Watson 93. Enigmatic Musician George Quartz 92. Artistic Luminary Joshua King 91. Inventive Director Rene Moreno 90. Color Mavens Marianne Newsom and Sunny Sliger 89. Literary Lion Thea Temple 88. Movie Maestro Eric Steele 87. Storytelling Dynamo Nicole Stewart 86. Collaborative Artist Ryder Richards 85. Party Planning Print maker Raymond Butler 84. Avant-gardist Publisher Javier Valadez 83. Movie Nerd James Wallace 82. Artistic Tastemakers Elissa & Erin Stafford 81. Pioneering Arts Advocates Mark Lowry & Michael Warner 80. Imaginative Director Jeremy Bartel 79. Behind-the-Scenes Teacher Rachel Hull 78. Kaleidoscopic Artist Taylor "Effin" Cleveland 77. Filmmaker & Environmentalist Michael Cain 76. Music Activist Salim Nourallah 75. Underground Entrepreneur Daniel Yanez 74. Original Talent Celia Eberle 73. Comic Artist Aaron Aryanpur 72. Classical Thespian Raphael Parry 71. Dance Captain Valerie Shelton Tabor 70. Underground Culture Mainstay Karen X. Minzer 69. Effervescent Gallerist Brandy Michele Adams 68. Birthday Party Enthusiast Paige Chenault 67. Community Architect Monica Diodati 66. Intrepid Publisher Will Evans 65. Writerly Wit Noa Gavin 64. Maverick Artist Roberto Munguia 63. Fresh Perspective Kelsey Leigh Ervi 62. Virtuosic Violinist Nathan Olson 61. Open Classical's Dynamic Duo Mark Landson & Patricia Yakesch 60. Rising Talent Michelle Rawlings 59. Adventurous Filmmaker Toby Halbrooks 58. Man of Mystery Edward Ruiz 57. Inquisitive Sculptor Val Curry 56. Offbeat Intellect Thomas Riccio 55. Doers and Makers Shannon Driscoll & Kayli House Cusick 54. Performance Pioneer Katherine Owens 53. Experimental Filmmaker and Video Artist Mike Morris 52. Flowering Fashioner Lucy Dang 51. Insightful Artist Stephen Lapthisophon 50. Dallas Arts District 49. Farmer's Market Localvore Sarah Perry 48. Technological Painter John Pomara 47. Progressive Playmakers Christopher Carlos & Tina Parker 46. Purposive Chef Chad Houser 45. Absorbing Artist Jeff Gibbons 44. Artistic Integrator Erica Felicella 43. Multi-talented Director Tre Garrett 42. Anachronistic Musician Matt Tolentino 41. Emerging Veteran Actor Van Quattro 40. Festival Orchestrator Anna Sophia van Zweden 39. Literary Framer Karen Weiner 38. Man Behind the Music Gavin Mulloy 37. The Godfather of Dallas Art Frank Campagna 36. Rising Star Adam A. Anderson 35. Artist Organizer Heyd Fontenot 34. Music Innovator Stefan Gonzalez 33. Triple Threat Giovanni Valderas 32. Cultural Connector Lauren Cross 31. Critical Artist Thor Johnson 30. Delicate Touch Margaret Meehan 29. Fashion Forward Charles Smith II 28. Dedicated Artist Carolyn Sortor 27. Political Cyber Banksy Wylie H Dallas 26. Dance Preserver Lisa Mesa Rogers 25. Rob 'Ain't No Creative Like A Bow-Tie-Wearing Creative' Shearer 24. Scholar of the Stage Susan Sargeant 23. Photographer of Record Justin Terveen 22. Music Man Jeffrey Liles 21. Keeper of the Safe Room Lauren Gray 20. Playwright Jonathan Norton, Man of Many Words 19. Filmmaker and Funniest Comic in Texas Linda Stogner 18. Gallerist Jordan Roth, the Art Scene Cheerleader 17. Artful Advocate Vicki Meek 16. Ballet Queen Katie Puder 15. Carlos Alejandro Guajardo-Molina, the Book Guy 14. Janeil Engelstad, an Artist with Purpose 13. Will Power, Playwright and Mentor 12. Gallerists Gina & Dustin Orlando, Boundary Pushers 11. Moody Fuqua, Music Community Organizer 10. Joshua Peugh, Choreographer to Watch 9. Allison Davidson, Advocate for Art Accessibility 8. Ben Fountain, Man of Letters 7. Fashion Maven Julie McCullough 6. Contemporary Curator and Artist Danielle Avram Morgan 5. Irreverent Art World Organizer Kevin Ruben Jacobs 4. Dwell with Dignity's Lisa Robison
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Dallas, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.