Tag Archives: Dallas Observer

State of the Gallery: August 2018

The days end the way they begin: covered with glue, paint, epoxy putty, and random bits of styrofoam. First comes the watering, and you don’t want to know how much water moves through the gallery on a weekly basis. The floor of the gallery is a concrete slab, and yet you’d swear that it listed back and forth like a sailing ship deck. Either the sundews have evolved speaking apparatus or the sleep deprivation has reached the point of no return, because their conversations are so BORING. And then there are the people wanting to come by at 3 in the morning, and I have to explain “I don’t care if you’re from D magazine! I don’t have any coca plants here! No, wait, I don’t have any at all! No flowers in this town: only carnivorous plants.” And that’s when I start screaming “The floor is LAVA!”, because I’ve wandered outside into the parking lot and lava isn’t anywhere near as hot. At what point will the heat break and my brain stop impersonating a toasted marshmallow?

Oh, hi. Um, never mind me. Just getting things ready for the next gallery open house. Just do me a favor and look behind you. Do you see my dead grandmother crawling up your leg with a knife in her teeth? Cool: so it’s not just me.

A bit more seriously, the best analogy for August in Dallas comes from what the late author Harlan Ellison described as “the hour that stretches.” Apparently space-time is as bent and warped by overstressed air conditioners as by gravitic anomalies, because you wake up one morning and figure “Oh, I have five weeks to get everything done, and I’m not going to slack off, so I’m going to start now.” Look down for a second and then back to the clock,  and everything has to be finished in an hour before everyone arrives. You KNOW you’re working, and you KNOW you’re making better progress than ever before, and it’s still not fast enough to deal with that hour that stretches. Hence, after this gets published, it’s back to the workspace, because carnivorous plant enclosures don’t make themselves. I know this from experience.

The biggest news, of course, is that the Triffid Ranch celebrates three years as a gallery this month, which means it’s time for another open house. Specifically, the Texas Triffid Ranch Third Anniversary Open House starts at 6:00 on Saturday, August 18, and ends pretty much when everyone goes home. Besides the novelty of the event itself (I look at pictures of the first ArtWalk at the old Valley View location and jawdrop as to how far everything has come since 2015), this open house includes the premieres of new enclosures, a custom cake designed and baked by the one and only Angela Nelson, and samples of that horsecrippler cactus ice cream mentioned last month. This is, of course, in addition to the opportunity to take home your own carnivorous plant enclosure or talk about commissioning a custom enclosure. As always, Triffid Ranch open houses are family-friendly events, too, so don’t feel obligated to leave kids at home.

As far as outside events and shows are concerned, one of the best things about living in North Texas is that autumn lasts until the end of the year, and as soon as the heat starts letting up in September, everyone rushes outside to breathe fresh air. (Every vendor familiar with outdoor Dallas shows can appreciate the Ray Bradbury novella Frost & Fire, because it hits all of the notes on show setup and teardown.) This means that everyone waits until the middle of August to get word on acceptance into big shows in late October. Since we’re not quite there yet, the wait for word from several local shows in October is almost painful. In the interim, though, the next three big shows in which you can expect to see the Triffid Ranch booth include:

Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays 5: November 11 in Austin. It may be a one-day show, but the Horror For the Holidays events have three things going for them: the people running them, the people attending them, and Central Texas when the heat breaks. Not only is this a chance to say hello to a lot of Triffid Ranch regulars who can’t always get up to Dallas for every event, but it’s a perfect time to get out of town for a road trip without worrying about the plants cooking on the way down. (It also revives good memories of when the litcon Armadillocon used to run opposite Texas/OU Weekend, instead of just before fall classes started at UT-Austin, back when the convention actually encouraged attendees under the age of 60.) Of course, that’s not the only reason to come out: if you’d told most anybody of the untapped potential for dark and dire gifts before the release of The Nightmare Before Christmas 25 years ago, they’d have laughed and pointed. Horror For the Holidays just screams back “WHO’S LAUGHING NOW?”

Dallas Fantasy Fair: November 24 and 25 in Irving. A quarter-century ago, the autumn Dallas Fantasy Fairs served a very specific purpose for those of a certain bent: when the house was full of distant relations, the television full of either Christmas specials or football, and most public venues full of Dawn of the Dead cosplayers, it was a chance to get away from the house, talk to people who wanted to talk about something other than work or raising kids. Things have changed a lot since then, as the internet was just getting going when the last Fantasy Fair ran in April 1996. Sometimes you have to let something go fallow for a while in order for it to come back stronger and better, and nearly 23 years should be plenty of time.

Texas Frightmare Weekend: May 3 through 5 at DFW Airport. Every year, I look at the lineup of guests and events and figure “There is NO WAY that the Frightmare crew will be able to top what they’ve accomplished here. NO WAY.” Every year, the Frightmare crew comes by my table and laughs and points over my assumptions. That’s fair, because at the rate Frightmare exceeds the previous year, we may get a panel with special guest speakers Lon Chaney Sr., Mary Shelley, Clark Ashton Smith, and Lemmy in 2020. In the meantime, the 2019 Frightmare gets Tim Curry as its headliner guest, which means I have even more to accomplish over the next nine months than ever before. (For those unfamiliar with Tim Curry’s horticultural accomplishments, his hacienda garden in Los Angeles is world-famous, and he’s also a leading authority on agave cultivation and propagation, so I will NOT be caught flatfooted in 2019 if he decides to come by the Triffid Ranch booth to look around.) And this is just the first guest announcement after opening up ticket sales: the next nine months are going to be interesting.

In other developments, expect a much more enthusiastic schedule for the poor neglected newsletter, partly because of the ongoing Port-O-John fire that is Facebook. The other reason is that I’ve missed email newsletters, and I’ve missed the community that invariably sprouts up with them. Because of that, it’s time to do a proper relaunch, and that includes free surprises for randomly selected subscribers. Expect details within a few days, but trust me: it’ll be worth it.

Finally, for those in the Dallas area or those sympathetic to the area, it’s time to vote in the Dallas Observer Best of Dallas Awards. This isn’t a plea to enter the Triffid Ranch for any number of categories. I won an award last year, which was more of a surprise to me than anyone else, and that’s good enough. Instead, it’s a matter of letting everyone outside of Dallas know what we have going for us, and that the cliché of big hair and shopping malls is one we’re killing one inch at a time. Besides, the last five years drastically changed my view of the Observer: it’s not the smarmy entitlement farm that it was back at the turn of the century, and I bow to no one in my admiration for dining critic Beth Rankin‘s articles and essays. (As far as I’m concerned, the biggest and best example of the paper’s change was with her recent essay on why she wouldn’t and couldn’t take publicity freebies sent her by various restaurants for ethical reasons: those who remember the paper around 2000, especially with the film and music sections, can understand why this was such a big deal.) Now go vote.

State of the Gallery

No combat-ready unit ever passed inspectionWelp. Two years ago this week, after years of planning and plotting, the Triffid Ranch finally made the transition from a show-only operation to one with a permanent base of operations. An awful lot has happened since then, with a lot more to happen between now and the end of the year. Close the roll cage and keep the fire extinguisher at hand, because things continue to get interesting.

Firstly, while the first official exhibition in the new gallery space isn’t until the weekend of October 13, things aren’t going quiet. The exhibition itself, titled “Relics,” takes up nearly all of the available gallery space, and the enclosures for that are filling out. This leads to funny discussions with friends, and there’s nothing quite like telling Jeff VanderMeer (author of the Southern Reach series, with the movie adaptation of the first book Annihilation due very soon) that an enclosure based on his latest novel Borne is the reason why my work area is covered with Anne Hathaway heads. Trust me: it was even funnier to explain how to get an Anne Hathaway head out of a space helmet without damaging the helmet. And if the thought of WHY a space helmet is so important in a carnivorous plant enclosure, then I’m definitely talking to the wrong audience. (If you’ve read Borne, you’ll know why I needed three.)

Incidentally, as opposed to the one-night ARTwalk events at the old Valley View location, future Triffid Ranch shows will run with extended hours. The opening of “Relics” stretches over Friday, October 13 and Saturday, October 14, with the gallery opening to the public over subsequent weekends until Halloween. The Triffid Ranch is supposed to be an art gallery, so it’s time it acted like one. 

And with the mention of shows, September is going to be quite the busy interlude. In addition to SmallCon in Addison on September 9, it’s time to announce the Triffid Ranch’s first appearance at the Dallas Comic Show in Richardson, Texas on September 16 and 17. The DCS was always problematic at the Valley View location because it tended to coincide with ARTwalk weekends, but with the gallery’s move, the Richardson Convention Center is literally up Central Expressway. This means not only a quick and reasonably painless load-in and load-out for the show, but interested bystanders wanting to view larger enclosures have the option of coming by the gallery after the Saturday night festivities. If this one works out well, a trip to the Irving Convention Convention Center event in February 2018 may be in order.

And on a separate note, the much-beloved Alamo Drafthouse chain announced this week that it was hosting specialty 35mm screenings of the original George Romero film Dawn of the Dead, with the Dallas and Richardson venues running Dawn on August 21 and 23. This is noteworthy partly because the film hasn’t been screened in Dallas since the original AMC Northwood Hills 4 midnight shows ended in 1986, partly because I always wanted to host a screening over at the Valley View space, and partly because this is a charity screening for lung cancer awareness. Oh, and the Alamo Drafthouse Richardson is also literally up Central Expressway from the gallery. If you feel so inclined to catch the greatest documentary about life in 1980s Dallas ever made, I look forward to seeing you all at the Richardson screening on August 23. (For those of us who remember the Northwood Hills midnight shows, it’ll be slightly bittersweet: the Northwood Hills hosted an audience participation crowd that made Rocky Horror look sick, and we can’t relive those days because of Alamo Drafthouse’s strict no-talking policy. Sadly, screaming “You mean I spent the whole day shooting zombies, and all you’ve got is LIGHT BEER?” falls under that policy.)

And on final notes, a mea maxima culpa is due. For decades, my relationship with the Dallas Observer was, shall we say, adversarial. During my writing career (1989-2002), I worked for the Observer‘s competitor The Met specifically because the word that best described Observer writing was “smarm”. There was the story about the editor who introduced himself with “You, of course, know who I am, don’t you?”, and would slam in print anyone who didn’t get down on knees and thank him for the privilege of kissing his butt. There was the other editor who spent all of his available time negging the Dallas Morning News in the hopes that the paper would hire him, or anybody else, really. I was nearly stomped at a music festival in Carl’s Corner, south of Dallas on I-35, because I was introduced as a writer and half of the bands there assumed that I worked for the Observer. I won’t even start with the writer best known as “The James Lipton of Fandom”: to this day, members of Dallas’s music community refer to being nagged and bullied for freebies and access and then slammed in print for acquiescing as “getting wilonskyed”. And then there was the lovely habit of the annual Best of Dallas Awards, where five to ten contenders in every category would be told by the ad department that they would be listed as the winner if they bought at least a half-page ad, and you can imagine the surprise when the Best of Dallas issue finally hit the stands.

Well, as they say, that was then and this is now. The change was first noticeable in Editorial, when an editor apologized in print to a writer for adding incorrect information instead of hiding behind a “We regret the error” note in 4-point font next to the masthead. Then starting with former editor Joe Tone, the paper shed the smarm and the entitlement (not to mention dining reporters prone to making the paper settle on libel lawsuits), to where it’s barely recognizable today from where it was circa 1999. While I can complement many of the regular writers, particularly news writer Steven Young, the changes to the Arts & Culture section under editor Caroline North are stunning. The highest compliment I can ever pay to any publication is noting that the writers all appear to WANT to be there, rather than just collecting a check while paying back on high school slights, and Dallas news and entertainment coverage is all the better for it. By the time Observer reporter Nicholas Bostick stopped by the Triffid Ranch space last February, I wasn’t dreading getting covered by the Observer. I was welcoming it, to the point where I have a standing invitation for the Observer staff to come by the gallery and let me pay for the beer. No expectations, no obligations, just thanks from someone horribly burned out on writing for a crew that makes me want to read a weekly newspaper again out of enjoyment.

In a roundabout way, this is my cue to let everyone know that the ballot for the Dallas Observer Best of Dallas Awards is now online, and I ask everyone to chip in. No obligations, no expectations, and certainly no slates (although I’ll say that I’m very fond of many of the nominees, and a couple of the categories were a tough call in picking the best out of four or five). Dallas is becoming a very different city from the one I grew up in, and we need to encourage and celebrate that. Hell, maybe this is the year I start buying Observer advertising, just to do my part to keep the paper hale and hearty, and keep those great writers and editors in coffee and spare pencils. If you’d told me in 2004 that I’d say this, much less in 1996, I would have punched you in the throat.

Otherwise, it’s the usual song: developments are upcoming, mostly because I can’t talk about them yet. That said, though, sleep between now and the end of the year is going to be something I only hear about. And so it goes.