Sara-Jayne Parsons has returned to Texas.
The British-born art educator racked up the requisite bona fides at Oxford, then landed at the University of North Texas in Denton for a master’s degree and gallery responsibilities. While in North Texas, she worked with the Dallas Museum of Art and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.
In 2006, she returned to England to work as exhibition curator at Bluecoat, a gallery in Liverpool, and now she is back in Texas as the new curator at Fort Worth Contemporary Arts, the gallery under the auspices of Texas Christian University.
It was the young artists here and the young artists there that prompted her return.
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“I thought about all of the young emerging artists between Dallas, Fort Worth and Denton, and there is a lot going on here,” Parsons says.
“When I was in the U.K. and was meeting young artists, all they wanted to talk about was Texas; they were fascinated by it, especially places like Marfa.”
For her first exhibit, done on the fly as she was relocating, Parsons transformed the white gallery box on Berry Street into a black box theater in which to exhibit two films, never shown before in Texas, by the Venezuelan artist Javier Téllez. The films have a common thread — the interpretation of reality using as the actors mentally and physically compromised patients who have been institutionalized.
Parsons then pairs the films with panel discussions.
The first, Caligari und der Schlafwandler (Caligari and the Sleepwalker), 2008, will be shown continuously through Nov. 22. The 27-minute film was written and performed in collaboration with patients from a Berlin psychiatric hospital after watching the iconic 1920 film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
Téllez used a German expressionist observatory at the Albert Einstein Science Park in Potsdam for his otherworldly science-fiction setting.
The second film, O Rinoceronte de Dürer (Dürer’s Rhinoceros), 2010, being exhibited Dec. 3-20, uses blind people to illustrate the story of artist Albrecht Dürer’s attempt to illustrate a rhinoceros without any first-hand knowledge of the animal. Both films use the subjective nature of perception and how we often blur the line between creativity and disorder.
Parsons is using the films as a springboard for discussions using art educators, therapists and mental-health professionals on her panels. The first, “Breaking Down Barriers: Disability and Contemporary Art,” will take place 7-9 p.m. Thursday. The second panel, “There’s No Place Like Home: Therapeutic, Empowering Art Practice in Fort Worth,” will be during the run of the second film, 7-9 p.m. Dec. 4.
Both discussions are free and open to the public.
The gallery has always had a strong educational component and is quite welcoming to visitors.
“I’m very interested in bringing groups here, not just art students and faculty, to do some sort of challenging and critical projects that make people think.
“Since we are a public-facing space of TCU, we should be opening that door; we should be finding interesting ways to work with people,” Parsons says.
There is a gallery space behind the theater with questions posed on chalkboards — “How do you perceive the world around you?”; “What problems do you have?”; and “What questions would you like answered?” Visitors to the gallery will be encouraged to pose questions and provide answers.
“The questions are programmed around things germane to the film about mental illness and institutionalization,” Parsons says. “ ‘What is normal?’ ‘Who is normal?’ ‘And who decides?’
“We’ll use this room as a catalyst to have panel discussions and encourage the collaborative experience. We will discuss the nature of the disability culture, which is an area the artist, Téllez, is connected to,” she says. “In Europe, it is a really interesting area of dialogue.
“It affects the use of the gallery space, and the kind of equipment we use, where we put the chalkboards. We are looking at points of access, both physical as well as interpretive.
“Often contemporary art is challenging, and it is the job of the curator to create situations so people can navigate those difficulties,” says Parsons, who has come blasting out of the starting gate with this endeavor.