100 Dallas Creatives: No. 6 Contemporary Curator and Artist Danielle Avram Morgan

Danielle with daughter Eleanor at the Keith Haring: The Political Line show in San Francisco, 2014
Danielle with daughter Eleanor at the Keith Haring: The Political Line show in San Francisco, 2014

Mixmaster presents "100 Creatives," in which we feature cultural entrepreneurs of Dallas in random order. Danielle Avram Morgan is a photographer turned video artist turned curator, all of which she likely does a great deal better than the average person. Hers is a name you'll see around Dallas now that you know. She's involved in much more than you're probably aware of. In the last few weeks, it's possible you saw the Dallas Medianale exhibit, Call and Response, which she co-curated with Dee Mitchell, or the Kristen Cochran show at the SMU Pollock Gallery, where Morgan is currently a curatorial fellow.

Her interests vary, but her taste is always interesting and on point and she's sharing it with Dallas. With Morgan around we're all getting a little bit smarter and more cultured bit by bit.

In layman's terms, what's the difference between films and video art? Well, there are the obvious tropes that we associate with a "film" and a "video," most of which come out of the physical structure, origins and dominant usage of each. Film is a direct descendant of photography and is strongly tied to commercial movie making. We tend to think of films as Hollywood-style theatrical releases; linear narratives with characters, plot and emotion. Video, on the other hand was developed by the broadcast industry and is associated with television, advertising and popular culture -- lots of information crammed into a glib, bite-sized package.

Yet however valid these associations may be, they don't fully describe the conceptual scope of either field, or acknowledge the subtle differences between the many genres and subcategories. Qualifiers such as "conceptual video" or "experimental film" are important because artists are either working within or against the conventions of these genres. To that end I would say that the definitions of "film" and "video" are, to a degree, constantly evolving.

Do you know what first attracted you to the digital art world?  When I entered my MFA program, I was practicing large-format photography and alternative process printing -- shooting and developing 4x5 sheets of film, mixing my own emulsions, contact printing on different papers ... I was beginning what would become a lifelong love affair with photo history and photographic techniques. But as an artist, I realized that I was sacrificing conceptual perspective for the sake of perfecting some very difficult and time-consuming processes.

I was doing a lot of performance and self-portraiture without always knowing what the end result would be, and video gave me tremendous flexibility and freedom to experiment. It also exposed me to a vast contemporary art practice that I knew very little about. I basically catapulted from the late 19th century into the 21st.

Can you point us to a few films or videos online that you admire or that inspire you?

Martha Rosler, Semiotics of the Kitchen, 1975(above)

Gary Hill, Mediations (towards a remake of Soundings), 1978/86 https://vimeo.com/5596880

Eija-Liisa Ahtila, The House, 2002 http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x4vwi5_the-house-eija-liisa-ahtila-1_creation

Harun Farocki, Images of the World and the Inscription of War, 1988 http://www.vdb.org/titles/images-world-and-inscription-war

Paul Chan, The 7 Lights, 2005 - 07 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3rVuoqUEvQI

Anthony McCall, Line Describing a Cone, 1973 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-HWsxPnNNY

When you're curating a show be it video art at the MAC or a show at the Pollock Gallery, what is your basic philosophy or a few governing principles?  I think of myself as a storyteller and of the audience as my listeners. It's great fun to go down a curatorial rabbit hole and nerd over the minutiae of an artist, a process or a part of art history that I find fascinating, but at the end of the day I need to be able convey what I find engaging about a particular subject to an audience. This entails identifying the target audience; considering how an installation can affect their experience of the subject matter, and providing supplementary information and programming that will enhance their understanding and appreciation.

Sometimes this means hitting on trends or movements already in place within a community, and other times it's about giving people something they didn't even know they wanted or needed.

Maybe as an example, what was the process of selecting and then curating Kristen Cochran's show? Kristen's show was already in the works when I was brought on as the Pollock Curatorial Fellow. But this type of thing happens all the time -- a curator inherits a scheduled exhibition and has to pick up and run with it. In Kristen's case, my curatorial function was largely to serve as a sounding board, editor and problem solver. I spent a lot of time in the gallery with her, talking through different possibilities and strategies; providing my perspective and serving as a stand in for potential viewers.

You studied at UTD and left for the MFA program at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts/Tufts University, what brought you back to Dallas? This is actually the third time I've lived in Dallas. I first moved here in the late '90s, left to do my MFA in Boston, came back and left again to work as a curatorial assistant at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. I moved back in 2011.

Both times I moved back for personal reasons, but I've also found the city to be a good home base with a supportive creative community, and I've never worried too much about finding (or creating) a new opportunity for myself upon returning. In exchange, living and working elsewhere has provided me with a strong network and a breadth of education and experience that I've been able to transpose to Dallas. I think it's important for creatives to move about and exchange knowledge and ideas.

One big idea you'd like to see implemented in this city.

I would like to see the rise of a sustainable artistic "middle class."

Many cities (and major corporations located within these cities) support their artistic communities because they acknowledge the financial benefits of having a strong creative nucleus. Things such as tax incentives for artists to live and work in certain neighborhoods; access to free or discounted legal council and affordable health care; student loan repayment assistance; mentorship programs; in-house artist residencies; travel/study grants, and better employment opportunities would go a long way to ensuring the longevity of a high-caliber creative community in Dallas.

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

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