The first thing multimedia artist K. Yoland brings up over coffee in her second floor apartment in the M Streets is the Ku Klux Klan. For the British-born artist, who now divides time between Dallas and Marfa, the strong historical presence of the white-hooded terrorist group in Texas was quite alarming. The second thing Yoland brings up? Highways. Both represent ways in which groups, particularly less privileged groups, are kept powerless.
"My work has always revolved around identity, power and the individual in society," Yoland says. "I'm interested in the relationship between individuals and the borders, the boundaries, whether it's a physical boundary like between the U.S. and Mexico, or a racial or gender boundary."
On the second day of a residency at University of Texas at Dallas' CentralTrak, Heyd Fontenot took Yoland on a tour of Fair Park. Just a quick walk from the British artist's new home, this Art Deco playground became a place of particular interest for its architecture and the various socio-political implications of its location and its history. Yoland began researching and exploring both aspects within the grounds — from the African-American Museum to the annual State Fair — as well as the surrounding community. Eventually this project expanded into greater Southern Dallas. This weekend, the results of this exploration will be exhibited at The Reading Room and The Mac.
Hidden Histories uses the Reading Room's small Exposition Park space as a gallery for photographs paired with texts complicating the barren locations with character. There, Yoland will also display an altered archival photograph of members of the KKK at the State Fair of Texas.
"I chose locations and images that have resonance with other moments. Fair Park was historically an African-American community and here are the Ku Klux Klan [there]," says Yoland. "They used to have — their words, not mine — 'Colored People's Day,' which was eventually renamed Negro Achievement Day. It's all very problematic."
That photograph is the only one not shot by Yoland in this body of work, which includes locations from Oak Cliff to the Trinity River during 2015's floods. Yoland has specifically photographed Dallas or used moments in the city's history — including the smelter in West Dallas — to explore a struggle found throughout the world, as cities ignore or grapple with their less than cheery histories.
"Digging those things up or understanding them is very interesting to me," says Yoland. "Sadly, in most places there are lots of unhappy things as well as good things."
This project was originally meant to be exhibited at Zhulong Gallery, a new media space in the Design District. When that closed suddenly in January, The Mac's director, Rachel Rogerson, reached out to Yoland to participate in an ongoing project, New Urban Landscapes, which engages with the art space's new location in The Cedars. The neighborhood is south of downtown, and just minutes from homeless shelters, City Hall, and to the east, Fair Park. The first artist in this series was Wille Baronet, who has been buying signs from homeless people and exhibiting them en masse.
For Yoland's exhibition Letters Without an Address, a large room in the un-refurbished Mac building will become an immersive video installation. Yoland has taken stories of marginalized people, both real and imagined, and written anonymous letters to them, which have then been integrated into the videos. The letters are Yoland giving a voice to those who are ignored or to whom we can no longer speak, an idea
that arrived after a friend committed suicide. There was so much Yoland felt needed to be said, but no way to get the letters to the person on the other end of them.
"These letters are based on real events, but are fictitious people writing to fictitious people who have died or disappeared or been pushed out of society," says Yoland. "These people writing letters don't know where to send them, they just know they need to write or communicate."
For Yoland, this stripping away of an individual's agency in relationships to both another person or a society is the crux of this body of work. The exhibition will be best seen by visiting the Reading Room first, which is open 6-9 p.m. Saturday, followed by a visit to The Mac, open from 7-10 p.m. Saturday. Yoland suggests avoiding the highway between the two places and driving through South Dallas via Grand Avenue.
"Ideally visitors to the two spaces would avoid the highway and drive through the urban setting between the shows," says Yoland. "The project isn't necessarily site specific but it resonates with the location."
Hidden Histories opens at The Reading Room (3715 Parry Ave.) from 6-9 p.m. Saturday, May 7.
Letters Without an Address opens at The Mac (1601 S. Ervay St.) from 7-10 p.m. Saturday, May 7.