Austin

The TX★17 Road Trip kicked off with a potluck on the rooftop of Partner Organization, The Contemporary Austin! 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?

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. My question, however, is the How. How do you really curate a Biennial?

On an international scale the Texas Biennial is tiny, and 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 somewhat peripheral, young, and grassroots, state-wide project that we call our Texas Biennial, I guess my real question is: How does one curate this Biennial?

Texas is a big place with a lot of big personalities. While I can’t answer the question of how to curate this Biennial, I can do my best to learn from it. 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. How can I curate something about our state if I haven’t attempted to understand what makes our places so great.

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.

Thinking on our Biennials past

I vaguely remember my first Texas Biennial. It was 2009, I was new to the arts scene in Austin, and my friend Xochi Solis was artistic director at the helm working together 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 around the entire state. Even though I grew up in Texas, is was like I had forgotten how big the state actually was in the time I had been gone.

It wasn’t until 2011 that the importance of the Biennial, and the impact that it had around the state really hit me. Organizing an exhibition is a big undertaking alone, organizing a statewide exhibition when the state is as big and diverse as Texas makes the project that much more ambitious.

In 2011, the exhibition took over eight venues in the city of Austin, and one in San Antonio. Each venue was packed with the work by a total 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.

The Texas Biennial has had an enormous impact, and 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 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+ partner organizations that are lending their time and voices, and mostly, I hope that 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.

The Road Trip

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, splitting my time fairly evenly, living both here and there then everywhere between as the job requires, which has even become fodder for jokes among a particular friend group. 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 that are making our Biennial amazing, and I am 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.

Travel is part of my method, and this road trip has become part of the curatorial framework that is needed to understand the various conversations that are happening within our arts communities across the state. While I can’t reach everyone and understand everything in just six weeks, I can do everything possible to learn as much as I can in each of the places I visit.

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!