Mixmaster presents "100 Creatives," in which we feature cultural entrepreneurs of Dallas in random order. Carolyn Sortor has been called "the hardest working woman in the Dallas art scene," and it's hard to argue after glancing at her résumé.
Between curating art shows all over Dallas, displays of video art on the "largest canvas in Dallas," the Omni Hotel and exhibiting her own work, just about anyone would have trouble keeping up with her dedication to the Dallas art scene. Especially since Sortor literally purchased a B.F.A., after a 20-year career as a transactional lawyer.
In her artist statement Sortor says that she "[sees] art as a mode of research, cognition, and expression about ourselves and our world." As such many of the projects she gets behind or directions she takes in her own work are heavily introspective in all manner of unique fashion.
Sortor is credited with the instigation of OccuLibrary, which looks to recreate little libraries that were destroyed at the end of the Occupy protests across the nation, "using aesthetically-informed strategies to lure awareness toward empowering info."
She even adapted the works of Shakespeare into a high-brow-ham-bone group event called a ShakeFests. The project is built to introduce new comers to the works of the Bard as well as tickle the funny bones of Hamlet spouting pros.
Ever since Sortor's first time at the Dallas VideoFest in 1991 she has been captivated by the medium of video in art. Now as a member of the festival's advisory board, she has taken every opportunity to spread the word about the artistic value of the moving image. As well as promoting innovation in general.
Aside from her love of video Sortor is also major proponent for artistic experimentation. On Sept. 27, 2011 she turned her own wedding day into a one-of-a-kind installation. Titled "The Wedding Project" Sortor tuned a crowd of over 100 wedding guests into a human screen. As video was projected on to them, they were showed a separate video piece by Sortor, which constituted the nuptials.
So here is one of 2013's Dallas Observer Masterminds, and another majorly creative Dallisite in her own words.
What are you working on now? On Sat., Jan.17, I'll have a show open at The Reading Room, Seismic Hive. The show will include my "hive" videos from 2009, including one aggregating YouTube videos of a favorite aria from La Wally, which will be in performance by the Dallas Opera concurrently with the exhibition. The exhibition will also include one or more excessively long prints on vintage seismic graph paper from the Los Alamos National Laboratory - one of the prints is 15' long and the other is 24' long (assuming I can fit it into the gallery). The exhibition will run through Valentine's Day. I'm also curating a program for the Dallas Medianale, which is a survey of video and new media art presented by the Video Association of Dallas at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary. The Medianale will open Jan. 9 and comprise installations, screenings, and intermedia performances, showcasing work by internationally renowned artists. Works will range from pioneering computer films to bleeding-edge experiments in moving images and interactivity. The program I'm curating will take place on Feb. 28. I'm still pinning down the exact schedule, but I'm very excited about how it's shaping up.
I had a show at the Epitome Institute in San Antonio scheduled for last Oct. that had to be delayed because of family health issues but that has now been re-scheduled to open Sat., June 13. If I go with the work originally planned, it'll play with Duchamp's concept of the infrathin and the now-extinct, outside of captivity, Google location marker shadow, among other things. Another ongoing project is the art as social wormhole reading group. Since I had no art credentials, in 2004 I bought a B.F.A. from someone who didn't need his anymore. After that, I considered going back to school for an M.F.A., but back then, local art departments didn't offer much for someone mainly interested in video and new media. So I came up with the idea of creating an "artificial M.F.A." program. The reading group is part of that and is also an offshoot from another project I instigated, the OccuLibrary. The reading group gives me deadlines to get through challenging aesthetic texts, together with fellow auto-didacts to discuss them with. There's no teacher to please, no one trying to impress anyone, just an intense interest in understanding texts that might inform our work and lives; it's been wonderful. (The art as social wormhole group meets every 3 to 5 weeks on Sun. afternoons and is free and open to the public.)
How has Dallas affected your creative process? Probably the most important thing is that Dallas has had one of the biggest, best video festivals in the world for over twenty years. I began exploring the local cultural scene around 1990 and soon discovered the Dallas VideoFest. I immediately felt that, for me, video was the most exciting art medium yet invented. I started seeing every bit of video art I possibly could, immersing myself in the VideoFest every year and organizing my travel around seeing more. It wasn't until about 2008 that most of the art world finally began to acknowledge that video art is here to stay; and opportunities to see much of it are still relatively rare. Second, if you're creative and willing to work hard, there's ample space and opportunity to do great things here, and I mean that in more than one way. In a quote I like from Waiting for Godot, one of the characters exclaims, "Let's do something, while we have the chance! It's not every day that we are needed. . . ." In Dallas, artists are needed. A third aspect is that the art community here is both incredibly talented and extremely generous. I had no art degree and no connections, but thanks to the many wonderful artists, gallerists, and supporters here who have willingly shared their expertise, time, and resources, I've been able to learn, and continue to learn what I need to make work I'm excited about.
What do you turn to for inspiration? Mainly: where ever. But great, cutting-edge works by other people are especially inspiring to me. A saying I invented some years ago is, "artists are the means by which works reproduce themselves." I also really enjoy collaborating with other people. When I was young, I read a lot of literature and philosophy; that strongly informed my world view and imagination, especially Shakespeare. Since maybe the impeachment of Clinton, I've also paid a lot of attention to current events; I'm interested in understanding the big picture. I find it helpful to think about things in terms of systems - what structures, principles, or processes enable a given system, be it a biological cell, an individual psyche, or a nation or other large organization, to survive and propagate? Reality is an art project in which we all collaborate, intentionally or by default; the more conscious we are of how we and our world work and the likely effects of our actions or inaction, the more empowered we are to shape reality to our liking. I suspect that part of artists' role is to intuit where we're collectively taking ourselves, and to help translate both that intuition and, if they've done some homework, the wisdom of the ages into aesthetic experiences that can inform our contemporary understanding.
How was your experience curating Expanded Cinema? What was it like to work with one of the most unique canvasses in Dallas? It was a lot of work, and very exciting. To make it happen, I had to figure out how visual works translate onto the display; design and test a template that would enable artists to make works for it; create a production schedule including tests of the other artists' works on the display and making the results available to them; help select and then advise and coordinate with the 13 other artists in the program; coordinate with the fellow operating the display and with KXT, including giving them a chance to review the audio ahead of time to make sure it complied with their requirements; create an intro, outro, and the countdown video; and then compile those together with all the works into a program; along with helping to coordinate all the other aspects of the event. It was very challenging, partly because we were figuring everything out for the first time; and subsequent curators have had a second person to help. But the people I worked with were really great, and it's one of the things I'm proudest of.
Were you nervous about leaving your 20-year career as a lawyer to become a full time artist? Do you ever miss your old job? I was extremely nervous. I've always felt I had to take care of myself financially and otherwise; and I think I knew that much of the work I'd want to make wouldn't be readily marketable - so I had to build up a certain financial security before I felt free to devote myself to art. I enjoyed my old job and feel it was grist for the mill. I was often responsible for negotiating and organizing large transactions involving multiple parties with competing interests, and doing so under severe time pressure - those skills have certainly come in handy in some of the art projects I like to do. As a lawyer, I was not responsible for selecting the project, just facilitating it; there was certainty about where we were going, or where to advise the client not to go, and it wasn't "about me." As an artist, I choose what to invest myself in, I often don't know where I'm going, and my work nearly always draws from my personal experiences and intuition to some degree; I feel much more personally exposed. So I guess if I miss anything about my old job, it was a greater sense of certainty or safety. That said, I absolutely love working as an artist, consider it a great privilege to be able to do what I do, and wouldn't trade it for anything.
How would you describe your aesthetic style? I hope I don't have one. But I like art that has integrity, that's complex, that works/is accessible on more than one level, and that has drive-up appeal.
Celia Eberle, another of our 100 Creatives said that you were a hero to the Dallas art community. Is there anyone in the scene that you see in that light? I'm deeply honored by her comment; I think she's among the most brilliant artists working today. We're all heroes, and, for better or worse, we're the best we've got. I could name dozens of personal heroes on the scene; it's very difficult to pick out just a few. That said, from what I've seen, gallerists deserve more appreciation than they often get. Most of them have strong artistic passion and ability; many are active artists themselves; yet they devote great time and energy to promoting other people's work. And they work very hard, in an incredibly risky business. To survive, in addition to real aesthetic discernment, they need commercial market judgment, an aptitude for schmoozing, solid business skills, and more; few of us successfully straddle such a wide range. Gallerists who have made great contributions to the Dallas scene include Nancy Whitenack, Vance Wingate, Paul Slocum, Kevin Ruben Jacobs, and Karen Weiner; I could easily name twenty more.
What is on the horizon for you? I really never know. Right now, I'm working hard trying to realize various projects that I've already more or less fully imagined. I realize curators and others would like to know where I think I'm going from here, but in fact I never know where the next inspiration will lead me. I just hope I personally have a lot of years left. I feel life's crammed me overfull, and I started drawing on it to make art only relatively recently; I have a lot more I want to do.
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
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.