Trey Burns’s Prairie Piece draws from his research into the landscape and ecology of North Texas to focus on the seemingly incongruent subjects of the Texas Blackland Prairie, artist Robert Smithson’s unrealized proposals for the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport (ca. 1966-67), and the legacy of the George W. Bush administration. A native of Atlanta, Burns settled in Dallas in 2018, when his interest in understanding the history and environment of his adopted home began. The artist’s past works have similarly reflected the investigative nature of his practice through installations that intertwine video, photography, architecture, and sculpture with both reverence and criticality toward his given subject. At the core of his interests is the boundary separating the human-made and natural worlds and all of the idiosyncrasies contained within that ever-fluctuating space: a flock of geese settling into a vast parking lot or extractive industries abutting nature preserves, for example. Burns’s most recent discoveries reveal a complex web of connections between and among the area’s ecologies, culture, and politics that are explored in Prairie Piece.
In a brochure available for takeaway in the custom-built display case installed just inside the gallery, Burns’s essay elucidates the obscured connections between his chosen subjects. A monitor on the floor features Burns’s 2019 documentary-style video of Dallas-based artist Tino Ward collecting trash in the riverbed of the Trinity River, while a second monitor installed at the top of a ramp contains animations based on various aspects of Robert Smithson’s unrealized DFW Airport proposals. Framing the windows of the gallery are LED sign lights commonly found on the exterior window frames of businesses across Dallas, paying homage to the Public Gallery’s history as a gift shop and casting an artificial green glow on the space as a way of simulating nature.
About Trey Burns
Trey Burns is an artist, writer, and educator currently working in the New Media department at the University of North Texas. Since 2018, he has been co-director of Sweet Pass Sculpture Park, a nonprofit arts organization that provides space and support for experimental and large-scale outdoor works by emerging voices. In 2023, Sweet Pass received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for the alternative education and exhibition program Sculpture School, which invites artists to look more deeply at place.
Burns has shown his work both domestically and internationally, including Pavillion Vendôme (Clichy-la-Garenne, France), Ecole Nationale d’Architecture Paris, Malaquais Gallery (Paris, France), Wassaic Projects (Wassaic, NY), Tarleton State University (Stephenville, TX), Wells College (Aurora, NY), et al Projects (Brooklyn, NY), and upcoming at the Nasher Sculpture Center (Dallas, TX). His writing has recently been published in Southwest Contemporary, the Holt/Smithson Foundation, Nasher Magazine, and Burnaway.