The TX★17 Road Trip kicked off with a potluck on the rooftop of The Contemporary Austin, our partner organization. Guests greeted Curator and Artistic Director Leslie Moody Castro and shared food and drinks together.
Below, explore Leslie Moody Castro's thoughts leading up to the start of the Road Trip.
How do you curate a biennial? I go to sleep asking myself this every night, and suffer the minor panic attacks that come with thinking about it before breaking the task down into manageable sub-tasks, and returning to the calm of forward movement.
I have obviously done my research. I've studied up on Kochi and talked to friends that have been. I've read up on the People's Biennial put together by Jens Hoffman and Harrell Fletcher as part of an Independent Curator's International project. I've looked at the history of Venice, of the Whitney (yikes!), and explored other models like Manifesta and Performa.
On an international scale the Texas Biennial is tiny; even though we are going into our seventh year, we are still a programmatic baby. We don't have the resources or reach of Venice, nor should we, since Venice has 122 years on us. We don't have the pull of the Whitney, whose resources and geographic proximity within a massive art center gives it an edge. So, considering this young project that we call our Texas Biennial, I guess my real question is: How does one curate this Biennial?
Undoubtedly I will make mistakes, and I will mess up along the way because I am only human, but I can trust that focusing this Biennial on learning about the arts ecosystems that make up our cultures and identities within the state has to be a healthy place to start.
While I don't have all the answers, at least I have a foundation. This Biennial will explore our cultures, and the lens will shift to focus on the learning process and the answers that process brings.
I vaguely remember my first Texas Biennial. It was 2009 and my friend Xochi Solis was artistic director, working with curator Michael Duncan. At the time, I was still somewhat new into the arts scene in Austin and definitely didn’t understand the magnitude of the project. Even though I grew up in Texas, I had forgotten how big the state actually was in the time I had been gone.
It wasn't until 2011 that the impact of the Biennial became clear to me. That year,the exhibition took over eight venues in the city of Austin, and one in San Antonio. Each venue was packed with the work of 54 artists, and for the first time, the Biennial introduced its participating organization program which enlisted the voices of institutions across the entire state.
In its following year in 2013 it saw even more growth as the overall exhibition spanned the entire state, growing the network of participating organizations, recognizing the voices and communities in the different regions of the state, and recognizing that the state is comprised of many voices.
The past two editions of the Texas Biennial are the ones I know best, but it's also important to recognize that ours is the longest-running state biennial in the country, and there’s something to be said about that. We have a community that perseveres, that is centered around collaboration and helping each other. This Biennial began in 2005 as a grassroots initiative to have a conversation beyond just the cities, and engage with the larger arts ecosystem in the state. Now, more than ten years and seven editions later, we have come to learn a lot of things along the way.
I hope I can do this Biennial justice. I hope that my predecessors, my colleagues, the 70-plus partner organizations that are lending their time and voices, and the artists in our state are proud of this Biennial. We have come a long way, and while we still have more to learn, we are also still offering the foundation through which to make that learning and those conversations happen.
My life is sometimes difficult to explain. I have been on the road almost consistently since 2013. I travel back and forth between Mexico and Texas, living here and there and everywhere between as the job requires. My life is itinerant, and I firmly believe that curating requires an itinerant lifestyle in order to avoid complacency and to foster constant criticality. Traveling is part of my method.
That said, I'm beginning to question the crazy idea of a six-week road trip around the state.
Throughout June and July, I am bouncing between more than 20 cities, visiting more than 70 institutions and organizations, and meeting with more artists than I can count. I keep reminding myself that all the travel over the past few years has led up to this one project, and placing myself in a position to learn and connect is part of the work that needs doing for this Biennial.
I am equally excited and terrified. This kind of an adventure requires stamina, patience and openness, all of which I have no doubt will be aided by adrenaline. I have no idea what I am going to learn, but I'm excited for the journey, I am already humbled and grateful for the generosity of everyone that has stepped in to help along the way, and I am still in disbelief of how this has all come together, and every day I am reminded that we are actually all in this together, which makes the scary seem much more manageable. This isn't my Biennial, but rather, OUR Biennial.
Thank you, Texas, for everything, and I will see you on the road!