Nowhere or Bust | Open House Art Salon
After a successful night at the first Open House Art Salon, curator and artist Christapher Xo (MXXO), met up with Wavelength to discuss the conceptualization behind Open House and their ideas on “trash art” and the culture of disposability.
Brittany Griffiths | 27 February 2019
On Friday, February 15th, over fifty artists, musicians, and patrons gathered together inside an inconspicuous little house in Oak Cliff for the first-ever Open House Art Salon – an event curated by artist Christapher Xo (also known as MXXO). Though it took less than a month to finalize the details for the event, the idea for a salon-style show was one that MXXO had been sitting on for a long time. Upon reflection, MXXO traces the inception of the idea back to a DIY art venue called Tex Gallery up in Denton. “The TEX Gallery was a place where I knew that I could show up on artist load in night and whatever I had I could show, and they’d find a place for me to put it. And I’ve had this idea for a long time, wanting to do that with my house.”
Open House featured a line-up of over fifteen local artists, musicians and performance artists, and the event was in every sense of the word – eclectic. MXXO wanted to generate an atmosphere where all artists, regardless of their proclivities for a particular medium or style, would be welcome to show their work. They wanted to create the type of show that they would want to go to – one rich in an abundance of variety while deplete of the all-too-common pretentiousness of a gallery-esque show. After spending years in the DIY circuit up in Denton and collaborating with various artists across the country through fellowships like Project M (Greensboro, AL), MXXO developed a passion for building meaningful spaces for art to exist and function. “I want to provide that outlet for people and provide that space that was given to me,” says MXXO.
In the early days of their artistic career, MXXO started out studying graphic design, and after a series of catalytic life events, began experimenting with found objects and new mediums. “I consider myself an outsider artist, and really even then I have a hard time qualifying what I do as art... I think you have to have that doubt in you to drive you forward.” MXXO’s journey of self-discovery through their work began in an unexpected way after dropping out of art school, sitting in a dead-end job, and seeing their plan to purchase a house fall through. “All of these influences came together where I was just incredibly frustrated and didn’t have any sort of physical outlet for my art at all. We had all these boxes… because we were about to move... and there was just one day when I started ripping the boxes up, and I took out all of my old paints and art supplies from school and started writing things that were making fun of myself,” says MXXO, “a lot of the early work was just about how bad the work was, like that classic idea that if you make fun of yourself then it takes the power away from the people that would make fun of you.” This move toward free expression and word association was a sharp turn away from MXXO's previous artistic inclinations having been long immersed in the aesthetics of graphic design. “I wanted to drop away from that and create something visceral.” This effort to create art in a more reactionary manner resulted in what they describe as an outpouring of their subconscious or an emotional purge, and in this early experimentation, Nowhere or Bust was born.
Although they had initially planned on throwing out the early work, a slow-growing, personal affection for some of the pieces coupled with the response they were receiving from fellow artists and friends, assuaged the idea. “The original idea was that I was going to paint these things and then throw them away… because these things feel so personal to me,” says MXXO, “but apparently they vibrate on a bigger wavelength with other people.” Over time, Nowhere or Bust became the umbrella under which they began exhibiting their work. As Nowhere or Bust took form, MXXO started showcasing their work on social media and setting up shop outside of art festivals. “I’ll just go and fan out a bunch of pieces, and I’ll sell my mystery shirts. The mystery shirts came from the idea that I would be set up outside of these festivals and people would want to buy my pieces,” says MXXO, “but the stuff that is objectively trash means something to me, and I wish I still had them.” So in an effort to preserve their work, they decided to purchase a simple, one-color screen-printing press in order to transfer their cardboard text designs onto t-shirts. The shirts, made available for purchase on Nowhere or Bust, play with free word association in handwritten, trite turns of phrase such as ‘Kill Your Selfishness’, ‘Made to Fail’, and ‘Filthy but Not Rich’. And, here again, the mystery shirts have provided MXXO with yet another opportunity to experiment with breaking the rules of typographical convention.
Playing with convention is one of many aspects of art that MXXO finds appealing, but the quality they are most attracted to is the accessibility of the form, especially when considered in the context of using social media to illuminate the disposability of their art. “The accessibility of it… finding what I can do within a very limited set. Using a tool [social media] that everyone has access to, but trying to make something unique with it and trying to express myself in a unique way with something that is a mass consumer product, and finding a way that my voice fits into it.” Here they are speaking primarily of Instagram, the main platform they use to showcase their work, and even more specifically, of the type tool in Instagram stories. “Part of that is just being completely open with myself,” says MXXO, “and having a persona that resonates with people.” MXXO’s use of Instagram to showcase their art, again, reflects their desire to carve out meaningful spaces for creativity and also provides a great example of how authenticity can be maintained on the platform. This preservation of authenticity has also enabled them to connect with a lot of other artists in and around North Texas. As MXXO began rounding up the artists they wanted to showcase at Open House, they reached out to a lot of people whose work they admired, including some they had never met before. It didn’t take long for them to fulfill their “wish list” of artists, and after just one month of planning, the show was organized and everything was set.
I think we can all agree that going to a house show is like flipping a coin – it’s either really good or really bad. Open House was one of those really good ones that you hope and pray you’ll walk into. The layout of the house itself was well-suited for the event, and MXXO manipulated the space beautifully, using what seemed like every inch of the house to accentuate the presentation of the art. From the entryway and the bathroom to the walls and archways dividing each room – there was art everywhere. Each work tastefully paired with the surrounding pieces. New artwork, including a few still drying on delivery, by Alex Saurez, Richard Benavidez, Erica Stephens, Brie Underhill, and MXXO adorned the walls, archways, and mantelpiece of the front room while the living room housed numerous pieces by Gina Garza, Krissy Bodge, Nolan Mueller, and even some from MXXO's private collection such as Travis Sykes, Jeremy Biggers, and Dave Patterson. In passing through a curtain that hung beneath a giant handcrafted devil’s head made by Alex Axon, one moved from the front of the house into the kitchen, which served as the stage for the musicians and performance artists. The performances throughout the night were no less outstanding than the artwork, with musical sets from Denton-based singer-songwriters Fishboy and West Oxking to the atmospheric, dream-pop of Dallas’ own dvd and performance pieces by Alex Axon, Reivin Alexandria, and Ely Sellers (who, while stuck in a box, managed to maintain a spot-on Buster Keaton-esque deadpan expression). The success of managing a menagerie of moving parts and bringing together so many disparate forms of art under one roof is a testament to MXXO’s hard work and eye for continuity. A lesser person, I’d argue, would not have had the gumption to pull it off. Though there are no plans set in stone for a forthcoming Open House event, MXXO isn’t shying away from the prospects of another show in the future, “I’ve played with the concept of it [Open House] being something that maybe moves, where it’s not always at my place… but I don’t know what the future will hold for it, but as a rule I’m open to all of the universe’s experiences.”
photos by Zack Huggins and Wavelength
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Brittany Griffiths is a writer from Dallas, Texas. She is the founder and editor of Spontaneous Afflatus, an independent publishing house that specializes in poetry and short story collections. She is also the editor of Wavelength Magazine. Last year she released her debut poetry collection titled, Ebb & Flow.
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