Trey Burns





About the Artist


I'm an artist and multi-media producer currently based in Dallas, TX. After receiving my MFA in Painting from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2008, I’ve worked primarily in new media. My work explores science fiction, consumerism, landscape, and filmmaking. Since 2013, I have been the artist-in-residence at the economic think tank Locus Analytics based in New York City. In this role, I often work with local high school students to map and understand the economic makeup of their own neighborhood. In addition, I have organized and curated video screenings, exhibitions, and publications in New York, Paris, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Atlanta. As a serial collaborator, I am always looking to work with other artists and creatives.




with D.K. Broderick, May 2018

If you don't know why you make art, why do you continue to keep up an active practice and produce what you do?

There's this funny video I saw one time, I can't remember the artists name at the moment, but he just kept repeating, "Are you talking about my work or are you talking about my hobbies? Are you talking about my work or are you talking about my hobbies?" Over and over, oh wait, it was Brian Bress. I think about it like that a lot. I'm not really sure where they overlap sometimes and where they don't. You know, it's just a nice way to spend time.

It's something to do?


So what are you doing now?

I'm working on this video for the upcoming open studios. I can't really think about how to explain what it is. It's sort of like a letter or an essay about this place, and it draws on some of my experiences and other trips I've taken and other places I've visited and kinda tries to tie them all together in this lyrical way.

Can you speak a bit more about the relationship between being a visitor and being a photographer and/or a videographer? What are the politics of being a visitor/visiting a place like Wassaic?

That's basically what this entire video is about. I mean, like I was saying, it's just something to do. I'm just constantly documenting. I can't help it. It's just a nervous habit at this point. So yeah, I'm just kinda filming and taking photos all the time. Sometimes they make it into art and in other times they just end up in folders and on hard drives.

Do you find that the amount of pictures you take or video you shoot depends on where you are? For example, if you're in your hometown, would you be producing the same amount of material?

You know, you have to go somewhere to see it fresh. It's easy to take and make pictures in a new place - a new place excites, and heightens your experience of it and you see everything. I think I don't see photographs as readily when I'm in my home turf because the textures are familiar. When you first get somewhere new, everything is clear, you see everything super vividly. I definitely shoot more on trips.

I'm also trying to get at questions of travel. Do you find yourself moving around frequently? Do you have to travel to make your work?

I definitely travel a lot. In particular I drive a lot. I'll go on day trips frequently and photography is often a part of it. There's that whole idea of photography as ritual or whatever. You get somewhere, you take a picture, and then you turnaround and go back. But yeah, definitely, trips and travel have a lot to do with how I make films and photos.

Does the video you're working on now, about Wassaic, take a certain perspective, does it have a narrative?

It does have a point of view. It has a certain sensibility, I guess, about how to see. Your point of view is your frame.

So then what is your frame, your opinion, for this project?

I'm drawing in a story about a space probe, one of the first photographs of Mars, and the whole story behind that. And drawing that into my own personal history and laying it on top of myself and my experiences here. But also weaving in and out of my being here and looking at here.

What's the difference between being here and looking at here?

That's a good question. Maybe the difference is that you have a camera in your hand.

The apparatus.

[Laughs] Yeah, the apparatus.

Does looking at here also entail looking at how you're looking at here?

Yeah. For sure. It's very self-conscious. Like, "I'm using a camera, I'm using different types of cameras."

You've said that you were "raised by movies." How has this impacted your working process and what you produce? And how (if at all) is watching movies related to your thoughts on the relationship between your work and your hobbies or in this case, childhood pastimes?

Film and movies have always been important to me — I was a little sheltered and didn’t have cable growing up, so I watched a lot of VHSs and DVDs, and would exchange with friends at school to widen my access. I love talking shop with people about what they’ve watched, what they take away from it. I have many fantastic friendships based solely on talking movies. Like all the arts, there is a robust vocabulary to learn, and being American it’s especially important to understand the history of film and its impact on politics.

Does it also impact the ways that you look, and the ways that you look at how you are looking?

I went to grad school and I was a painter when I went in. A lot of painters talk about feeling a historical weight. Like the weight of the canvas. And of picking up the brush and feeling how heavy it is. It's like everything you're doing you're talking about something else, or talking to someone else, or having a dialogue that stretches back for hundreds of years across peoples and places. The same is true with video and film. You're speaking in a vocabulary. You set up a shot and you're like, “oh, this is sorta like an Antonioni," like super wide, landscape, and stark. It's that sort of thing, you're always dialoguing with things you've seen before. There's this concept of chunking, where every concept is made up of lots of smaller concepts and even those smaller concepts have lots of things nested inside of them. It's the same thing with images, too.

Let's get into the relationship between painting and filmmaking a bit more. Are there other overlaps between painting and filmmaking that you're actively working through in your work, beyond simply the awareness of the weight of historical references and materials?

Certainly pictorially. They’re both pictorial space — one is just time-based. And also being loose with materials. Something that I've tried to do lately is free myself up and allow myself to be a little sloppier with camera stuff. I used to shoot very rigidly — it had to be on a tripod and I'd throw it away if it was out of focus. Now I'm just sort of letting shots be what they are.

Is this sloppiness calculated?

Yeah, like showing the guts a little bit. Sort of like a painter that shows their marks. To be half-resolved.

Has being at Wassaic changed any of your methods or the content that you're interested in?

Well, you know, there's just not a lot here. So it's been strange to just run out of things to look at. Which has been kinda unexpectedly fun at the same time.

Where do you look when you run out of things to look at?

I don't know.

Is that when you edit?

Yeah, that's when you edit. [Laughs]

But I guess there’s always something to look at. For me being here has really just been about the time. It's been great to just clock in everyday and be able to do it straight. You know, not have to wait till the weekend or till Thursdays. Which has been really nice. This residency is pretty cool. My partner and I are thinking about starting an outdoor sculpture space when we move to Texas.

Where you at now, in New York City?

I'm in Brooklyn, yeah. It's a big move. Her family’s in Waco. So we're plotting our move and it's been really cool to see Wassaic as a model. This is a very interesting place with an interesting community. That word "community."

When you say, "that word 'community'" what's behind that statement?

It's just one of those words that's gotten a lot of play in recent years. I feel like it’s been completely exhausted.

Is it really a concept that has been emptied of all meaning? Can public art and/or artist residencies engender community? How can we think about community from a cynical and still generative perspective?

It’s a topic that can get — to use the trending Internet term — a little ‘cringey.’ And unfortunately I do think it’s been drained, or the substance is usually critically low. Richard Florida and company see artists as a wedge for developers and as someone who has been a gentrifier for most of my adult life I don’t know what to do about it. I’ve certainly talked about it ad nauseam. Wassaic seems to be striking a pretty good balance — it just seems like you have to be a good citizen. Art can be part of that, but it can’t be all of it. I don't know. I'm just gonna leave it there.

I believe in community. And if you're thinking about starting some sort of outdoor sculpture space, community seems important on some level or another.

Yeah, we always want it to be but I don't think it has to be. Like this place is good about finding different levels of entry which I really appreciate. It's an apparatus that holds up a lot of things. Like you can still have one conversation while having another. And that's important. That's something I think I'll take away from this place.

I went to the first Biennial in Bordeaux and Didier Faustino did the design of the event. He installed all the sculpture near the water and then he built this enormous beautiful wooden bridge that went over to a carnival. And he kept the carnival and the art completely separate. I think that's a good way to do it and that's kind of what this place is, too. It's inclusive but it's letting people have different conversations without dumbing it down. Sometimes community can mean that. Maybe that's a controversial thing to say. Or maybe just cynical. I don't know.

It’s case-by-case I guess. This is gonna sound really corny, but in the example you just gave, maybe community is the bridge. It's not one space or another space but the way that one moves between spaces together with others. Maybe that's community.

Maybe that is.


I used to shoot very rigidly — it had to be on a tripod and I’d throw it away if it was out of focus. Now I’m just sort of letting shots be what they are.
— Trey Burns

Photos by Walker Esner