Visual Art

Leslie Moody Castro Isn't Curating an Art Exhibition at CentralTrak, At Least Not One with Art

Leslie Moody Castro arrived in Dallas with an idea for an exhibition. Moody Castro, a curator based in Mexico City and Austin, is currently a resident at CentralTrak, the University of Texas at Dallas' artist residency program in Exposition Park. While there, she was planning to curate an exhibition filled with art. Of course, that's wildly different than the exhibition that she will open this weekend. The exhibition, I Should Have Been a Pop Star: Evaluating Value, will be empty.

After facing insurmountable budget challenges and realizing that shouldering the financial burden herself might not be valuable she decided to focus on the conversations that could be had about the realities of art creation and curation. Instead of displaying art, Moody Castro will take on the role of journalist or interlocutor, publishing a series of journalistic articles here on Mixmaster, as well as hosting discussions and workshops. We kick off the series today by chatting with Moody Castro about what happened to her original project and what she hopes to accomplish.

What medium do you typically work in as an artist? I'm actually not an artist at all, and am always really up front about that. I am just a curator. I work collaboratively with artists to produce exhibitions. I guide processes, instigate conversations, and ask a ton of questions. Whenever I start a project I really think about audience, the public, and the communities that I'm trying to reach, and this really involves looking at the programming of whatever space I'm working at, as well as their mission, vision, history, past projects, etc. From there I can really get a sense of what would be relevant to a community and I can start working with an artist (or group of artists) to design an exhibition or project.

How did you end up at CentralTrak? It was around January of 2013 that I visited Dallas for the first time in a number of years. It was a bit curious because somehow all roads kept leading back to Dallas. A good friend and artist Margaret Meehan introduced me to Andrea Karnes and Alison Hearst, the curatorial brain power behind Mexico Inside Out: Themes in Art Since 1990 at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Around the same time I finally crossed paths with Arden Decker, an Art Historian, also originally from Fort Worth, and she's now become a great friend in Mexico City. There were just a lot of small things that kept pointing to the fact that I needed to put Dallas on my radar, and as an independent curator I think it's really important to pay attention when the universe is telling you to go somewhere. So I planned a visit, and with the help of Margaret Meehan and Noah Simblist, I was lucky enough to get a really great introduction to the city.

During that first visit I was also really lucky to reconnect with Heyd Fontenot, the director of CentralTrak, whom I also know from Austin, Texas. Heyd and I overlapped in Austin for a few years and had a ton of people in common, so a visit with Heyd at CentralTrak was only natural and long overdue! In the course of the conversation it became really obvious that CentralTrak would be a great fit for a curatorial residency. I was at the point in my career that I was really ready to explore residency programs, especially in new cities that could provide experiences to inform my practice as a curator. Fast forward two years, a number of site visits later, and here I am!

What was the initial idea for your exhibition? The proposal has gone through so many phases and changes it's kind of remarkable. Initially I wanted to pair together two very different artists from Mexico City to do a site specific project exploring documentation. That initial exhibition evolved into two separate projects, then finally into only one exhibition/project that involved a road trip from Mexico City to Dallas and looked at geographies and migrations with a very different lens.

What was the first obstacle you faced for this exhibition? And then what was the obstacle that pushed you over the edge to create this response? Every obstacle that this project faced was with funding. It's a really common problem that I am always faced with in the visual arts. The final exhibition would have been around $6,000 to produce successfully, a modest amount for an international exhibition with an international curator and artist. I was faced with a really difficult dilemma when I realized that the amount earned by myself and the artist would not have been equitable to the amount of work we had put into the project. You also have to consider the fact that by this point I've been working on this for 1.5 years.

The tipping point for me was during a conversation I was having with a friend and colleague. I was explaining this dilemma and really seeking advice for what to do when she asked me: "What is that saying about your value as an intellectual in the visual arts, and what is this saying about the value of CentralTrak within a community of visual arts?" After a multitude of funding hurdles it was really in that moment I realized the real discourse was in these issues of funding and value, especially since these are common issues in the world of visual arts.

Since my practice as a curator is so intertwined with communities and audience, this realization was kind of like an "AHA!" moment, where it really hit me that talking about these issues and making this battle transparent was really much more productive than fighting for an exhibition that didn't necessarily speak to the issues of value existent within this artist community.

You've clearly turned this into a dialogue, isn't that a pivotal part of art and an exhibition? In my practice it absolutely is. I really think about exhibitions in terms of entry points for conversation and dialogue.

What do you hope you generate or bring about with these articles and the empty art show at CentralTrak? I mainly want transparency and conversation. I want the empty gallery to reflect the lack of value for the production of culture and arts, and the intellectual capacity it involves to pull it all together. I want this to be a subversive way of showing the existing inequities that no one talks about.

What would be the wrong way for the press or the public to talk about this project? This is a really, really great question. I don't want this to be or become antagonistic. I am very solution-based, rather than problem-based, so in the gallery we will have workshops and brain storming sessions. We will be writing problems and solutions directly on the wall of the gallery. I'm also opening up my personal Twitter (@LmoodyCastro) to receive problems/solutions from people that can't be here physically.

I think there is a lot of power in transparency, and I also think that conversation can instigate change that can have a huge effect on a community.

Anything else you want to put out there?  Even for a non existent exhibition there are a lot of people to thank. Heyd Fontenot and Laura Sewell for the platform they have provided in CentralTrak, as well as their perseverance and tenacity. Thank you to the Dallas Observer for hosting these articles and being part of the discussion. Thanks to Alex Dorfsman and Diego Perez, the artists I was supposed to work with initially who also gave their voices to this project, and thanks to the Mexican Consulate for their willingness to try to save it.

But I mainly have to thank the community of Dallas artists. There is a persistence here that I really admire, as well as an openness to welcome new people like myself. Thanks to all of you whom I've already met for sparking conversation and welcoming me to Dallas. I'm really excited to be here.

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Lauren Smart
Contact: Lauren Smart