For Once, a Selfie That Expands Your Social Horizons

Sometimes, as the song says, you want to go where everybody knows your name. But in the spirit of disrupting cliché, perhaps you could take the opportunity to tread on new paths, to a place where you may not know everyone's name, but before it is all said and done you'll at least know all their faces.

The Dallas Contemporary, that island of art and festivity, is a gallery to most and yet exists in that gray area of definition for many Dallasites. It is routinely a place to either attend a party or throw one. Its scale and multiple-room layout have made it home to small affairs and nearly festival-size shindigs. And though it's not a bar, it does frequently have an open one, making its openings an always buzzy cross section of Dallas creatives. Music, check. Cool brew, check. Offerings that bring Dallasites into a national creative conversation? Well, yes.

This is nothing new. The Contemporary has always been a mix of many things. It's a place to see and engage visual art, certainly, but I have also seen local and national bands play within those white walls, seen beloved DJs (and artists as DJs) make dance parties, watched friends swim in Dumpsters and witnessed runways stomped over by models draped in "fashion."

As a non-collecting museum, it is able to bend and contort so that Dallas need not miss out on regional, national and international artists of varying import and provocation. I will let our friends over at The Mixmaster further discuss the import of the art. What I do know, as nightlife columnist, is the import of the Contemporary's parties. "Everyone" will be there, and with its latest exhibition, JR's Inside Out, that expression is being taken to new places.

It's a phrase that works in Dallas: "Everyone will be there," though I am sure that does not make us unique. Still the sport of seeing and being seen is pretty competitive around here. The same crowd of 200 or so populates party pictures and DJ nights, demanding reunions or longing for the supposed good old days of Deep Ellum. It makes a social butterfly wonder if we will ever really evolve, or whether we even want to. And just how do we really see ourselves?

"Everyone will be there." And even with the occasional eye roll, I go. With Inside Out, a now global participatory art project from artist JR, Dallasites will get the next chance to add their portraitures and broadcast their identities, their platforms or just their personalities from the growing collection. The images are then wheat-pasted to the wall, all of us side by side. Wall to wall. Floor to floor. Some even hang, as though out to dry, on a clothesline across the ceiling.

Your social media feeds were probably filled with the Inside Out "selfie." It's a stark image, with contrast-heavy lighting and a polka-dot background. The Friday before the exhibition opening, Instragram filled with friends partaking in the portrait. First I saw some members of Art Conspiracy, then I saw local musicians and artists. DJ Tony Schwa popped up on my feed, his child there with him. The photo booth collected images of friends, acquaintances and total strangers alike.

The process itself seats you in a tiny booth. The chair puts you just below the eye line of the camera. If you didn't mind altering the composition of the photograph you could opt for something very naturally off-center. You know, if you yourself were a little off-center. Or you could bring a prop. Or you could make a face.

I walk into the Dallas Contemporary on Friday afternoon. The Jackson Five is blaring and young men are on lifts busily pasting the already printed images on the wall. I see a row of uniformed students leaving the building.

I don't really feel stressed until the woman in front of me looks at me in a panic, "Do you have any pressed powder?"

Oh, right. "How do I want to ... look in this?" I wonder.

I give the stranger my powder against the health advice of every beauty magazine I have ever read and decide it's for the greater Dallas portrait. It's too dark for her, but you can't tell in the photo, thanks to the flash. Next my photo is spit from the truck and wafts to the floor. I have put on too much eyeliner, but typical seems appropriate. I take a picture of it and with it, as though it is not me.

The night of the opening, the seeing and being seen reaches new heights. Participation, not narcissism, provides a new variable to the usual out-and-about crowd. I get texts from friends walking over my face.

It all gets very cyclical, this process of being Inside Out-ed. We are there to see each other, find each other. Both at the party and on the wall, and on the floor, and hanging as though out-to-dry, on a clothesline across the ceiling.

And it really is strangely beautiful. It makes you pause, in the same way maybe you do when looking into a mirror. Except you very quickly move past yourself until you find a friend. Until you wonder about a stranger, or about a stranger's child or Dirk. I spend so much time in these columns telling you who was what, where, when, why and how. And maybe this time no one was dancing on a table, or swinging from a chandelier but what is that if not a cry for attention? Some proof you exist. Some way to be seen. And there we are, up on the wall.

You still have time to go inside and play. The photo booth will be set up at the Dallas Contemporary until March 9, and staff there will be adding to the exhibition all the while. It's a self-selecting population, so go to there and show yourself. Being seen never looked so good, Dallas.

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Deb Doing Dallas
Contact: Deb Doing Dallas