William Sarradet: A Need-to-Know Artist in Dallas' Underground Art Scene
There's a revolution brewing just off Greenville Avenue. With a handful of cords, a projector and a few speakers, a DIY collective waves its middle fingers in the air at the fine art market. This is Two Bronze Doors. By day a small, nondescript house sits right off Lower Greenville's strip of bars and restaurants strip. On weekends and nights, the house becomes performance space. The porch fills with its passionate followers, there to cut their teeth on experimental art, video projections, harsh noise and glitch music. At the heart of TBD stands artist, performer, resident VJ, and one of the most forward- thinking acts in Dallas, William Sarradet, also known as Half Asexual.
Sarradet curates the Viral Fantasy shows at TBD, a mixture of milky pop, early 2000's music video re-animation and performance art. Sarradet selects videos, sometimes with guest curators, that meditate on media singularity through pop music's most important epochs.
At a Half Asexual show you are peering into the looking glass. Staring back at you is Van Gogh's ear, Sauron's eye and Skynet's grin. We sat down with Sarradet to learn about his approach to creating the future by gathering the past, his DIY philosophy and the great American cartoon, Arthur.
What kind of home did you grow up in?
I'm from Cleburne, which is an old railroad town south of Fort Worth. I was born and raised there for 18 years by my parents with three siblings. Home life was extremely stable. I had a very normal childhood aside from my household being above-average in millennial Christian piety.
How religious was your family?
I would describe it as moderate to severe at all times. By the age of 17, I could count the number of Sunday's I'd missed church on one hand. We were homeschooled until about 2000, which I'm sure is partially because my parents wanted more control over what we were exposed to, and also because it was probably a little easier than dealing with four kids in four different schools/grades. Our parents definitely made a point to bake-in moral lessons to every day happenings, and were very clear about fundamentalist and puritanical tenets of Christianity like how hell is an undeniable consequence and morality is concretely objective.
I'm assuming the exposure to the arts was limited.
True, we didn't have cable but my sister (Thoele) and I have always had a passion for animation. We watched all the PBS children's programming and we had an old set of encyclopedias that I enjoyed reading a lot. Our mother tried to take us to the Omni Theatre and expose us to the classics as much as she could afford. I realize now that we ended up making our own entertainment probably more often than kids that had the luxury of cable TV and video games.
What did this self-made entertainment look like?
We were basically teaching ourselves how to construct and tell stories, acting them out with props like stuffed animals or whatever plastic flotsam we found on the street that day. We were particularly organized about it though, developing long running canonical universes and characters.
How do these early creative installations play into the musical and art narratives you are making now?
The work I make now is more informed by the education and studio practice I received in school. I am trying to execute themes or narratives in a pointed way, while these childhood experiences were entirely playful and a product of suburban boredom. Although I'm sure the sheer amount of time spent playing out fictional roles and characters gave me a good understanding within myself of what themes within storytelling move and motivate me.
I pick up on some of that. What key moments during your time at the University of Texas at Arlington became the backbone of your most recent projects? My time in the printmaking studio taught me the practice and discipline to make a body of work. Most of my understanding of the function of fine art comes from my time spent making prints. Honestly, with the work I'm creating now, all of the side projects I pursued outside of class have matured into what I am doing now. Video, curating, organizing, everything. UTA afforded me time in a real studio with real tools, and also valuable conversations with art professionals and people that get paid within the art industry.
Where did the connection with Two Bronze Doors begin from?
My friend Tiago Varjao was asking around for someone to bring a projector to a house party he was DJ'ing. Tiago spins the best vinyl sets to dance to and I needed friends, so I volunteered immediately. I remember telling Natalie Jean Vaughan (facilitator at Two Bronze Doors) about small scale video parties I was throwing for friends in Arlington and her enthusiasm was really unexpected. I quickly drew up a proposal form for a monthly video media event and pretty soon I was working on events at the gallery just about every weekend.
When was this? And how has the video media event evolved since its inception?
That was April of last year, the first Viral Fantasy was in June. Since last year, they've become more varied in scope but the execution is pretty similar. Music videos are selected for presentation, and I try to bring in performers that have a video bent to them in some way. We've had artists perform over the air which is then projected onto the wall, we've had live VJ sets on top of music performances, and as many music videos as I can fit into one party.
Where does your obsession with music videos come from? I imagine your parents weren't letting you watch MTV or BET as a teen.
Also true! I've thought about it a lot and its still not clear. I think that music videos are a short form of film that offer a lot of freedom. Typical storytelling conventions that make a piece of video 'coherent' or 'feasible' aren't really in place. A music video can be glamorous or absurd or basically just visual wallpaper that is fun to look at. It's also important to note that I was always interested in understanding what 'cool' and desirable meant as a young kid because we were kind of poor, and the stuff you would see on MTV or VH1 were like a textbook for that stuff.
Some of the video work I've seen from you is a sly play on nostalgia and all its guilt trips.
In the early days of making music videos, all of my stuff was documentarian. There was a lot of exploration of what a camera is as an eye, or what it means for video to be an actual document of real-time instead of a tool for composition. Now, I film much less and appropriate video from places like YouTube or wherever I can get it. Going to art school also taught me that everyone has a history and a visual language that they implement, and it can be hard for a viewer with a life experience separate from my own to tune into what specific visual symbols mean. I'm still figuring out what that word means, nostalgia. Memory is such a big part of sight and visually recognizing your environment.
What shows do you have planned for the future?
Three more Viral Fantasy shows before that project ends, and all of them will feature some really great video premieres and performances which I'm excited about. We have a few music shows and art openings lined up through May, which are probably still in development. I should also be performing a Half Asexual set at a Spiderweb Salon show in Denton in April.
What will happen after viral fantasy? Will you still be a part of Two Bronze Doors?
Definitely! I am taking the lessons learned from the last year of organizing shows and developing a new showcase at Two Bronze Doors that should be more regular than Viral Fantasy without sacrificing content. Hopefully that will come together by the end of summer. I want to get more video interaction within Half Asexual performances, which i haven't been able to devote as much time to as i want. Any extra time I gain will go to developing more video projects or doing more shows, and Two Bronze Doors facilitates that for me.
Yes, Half Asexual. Where/when/how was it birthed?
I've held an enthusiasm for harsh noise since college started, and performance has always been something that piqued my interest but I never thought that I would be able to be a 'performer.' By the time college was ending, I realized I had the tools and knowledge to build a performance project that worked around my strengths and weaknesses. Also, I started experimenting with glitching audio and video a little over a year ago and decided it was time to put it to use.
A scene from Sarredet's Viral Fantasy series
What contemporary references have you pulled from for Half Asexual performances?
I would have to cite How I Quit Crack from Austin/Houston as the sole greatest influence on my approach to performance with this project. Seeing her perform and watching her setup change (or not change) through the short number of years I've been able to see her play has given me new understanding of what agency I hold over my own project. I also like to use commercial advertisements as source content in a lot of Half Asexual stuff, I'm still exploring that. Your work concentrates on both pop culture and contemporary art practices. Music and art have been intersecting since the 70's, but now it seems commoditized in a banal, almost callous sense. Being at a Half Asexual show it seems like you play with this phenomenon.
I definitely like the 'freedom' that comes with playing a non-musical performance project. And I like appropriating symbols from the ambient media culture that surrounds our lives because it's usually something that either relates to my life experience or the audience's. I definitely have to be conscious that I can easily become a filter of the works of others - or worse, whatever I saw on TV that day. I'm afraid of my work becoming a product of a pundit; just another talking head shouting louder than anyone else. Part of Half Asexual is teaching myself and others that we have our own agency over the media in our lives - use it and abuse it. Re-appropriation is always going to be a part of that. Education and discipline is what keeps my art practice balanced and informed.
When you see artists like Takashi Murakami, Vanessa Beecroft, or Yayoi Kusama imagery and influence in contemporary pop culture, or even further, Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat name dropped by rappers, do you smile or smirk?
The act of pursuing an education in art has made me realize just how difficult it is to grasp some the complex visual rhetoric promulgated in our modern media climate. I have become more interested within the context of the message, and usually in relation to the medium You play upon puritanical notions of love, salvation, pleasure and acceptance in your performances. Possibly a reference in some way to your upbringing?
Growing up in a Christian household, we definitely saw anything that wasn't in the Bible or in church as the 'outside world.' We definitely consumed something like a commercial with this in mind. I'm so far removed from being a 10-year-old waiting for Arthur to come on that it's hard to remember. My relationship with video media has changed so much.
I loved Arthur.
It is one of the great American cartoons! I never liked it as a kid, I am only capable of appreciating it as an adult. Arthur is a show I have returned to as an adult, it's swelling with emotion and empathy. That's why I didn't like it as a kid and why its endearing to me now, its pretty wholesome. I didn't have any friends at the time because we were homeschooled, so I was probably kind of bitter about that.
What do you think Two Bronze Doors provides that the established gallery curriculum does not? Some of the same artists are being shown in commercial spaces, but TBD provides unique introductions to these artists in a different setting. Accessibility and liquid organization. I enjoy house and DIY organized events because you know they're informal when you walk through the door. It's a different circuit, it serves a different purpose than commercial art galleries, and that is something TBD is cognizant of.
The house is really interested in occupying the space that the fine art market doesn't fulfill. They really care about bringing what is current and local to patrons that don't even know what it means for a painting to be worth $5,000. That ethos was evident pretty much immediately upon meeting everyone at the house, and I knew i had found a place I needed to be involved with.
Have you seen other house shows open up on the TBD model? Do you hope to plant a seed?
I can say that all of my bookings at the house have been exercises in the things I've learned from my time at small shows around Texas. I would like to be a part of bringing that to audiences at a local scale - that's what I'm trying.
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