By Anna Reser
After running a successful alternative gallery space in Albuquerque NM for several years and staging a number of solo exhibitions around the city, artist Scott Williams has recently moved his practice to Austin TX. In the midst of setting up his new studio space and planning an upcoming exhibition, he spoke to me about his work’s relationship to nature and the environment, modes of scientific inquiry, and human interaction with technology.
Anna Reser: I’ve followed your work for many years, and thematically I've always seen certain bodies of your work as playing with the 'line' between nature and technology, and that affect and emotion are sort of the bridge between the two, both formally and conceptually.
Scott Williams: For me, the line between nature and technology becomes a relatively important jumping off point for almost everything I make. It's more maybe a fascination with the nonexistence of that line...Like, we are nature too. At the end of the day, our technology isn't that much different from that, say, of a honeybee or a desert swallow.
Human science excites me, it gives me so much. We can make anything we want manifest in the world with the right science, the right technology. We can go explore space. We have the ability to network and work together like no other time in history. We can fix our bodies and we can make pieces of art that are nearly impossible objects. It also scares the shit out of me. They make nuclear bombs and poison our brains with advertising and media.
Nature also excites me, but it doesn't scare me, because I'm not in charge. It can be violent and heartbreaking and is often cruelly "unfair," but it moves without principle, without the noise and guidance of said dominant species. It just makes sense to me. And so, I think a big part of why my work rests (maybe uneasily) on the edges of those lines is that that's where I am.
But the part of me rooted in the very real and present human world sees the necessity of embracing science and technology as much as we can, not only because it's part of who we are as an evolving species, but it's also exciting, and it can help us to make great things happen for everyone.
AR: Can you say a little about your background, and how that feeds into your current practice? I know, for instance, that you did Land Arts of the American West in college. Is Land Art a part of your practice now?
SW: So, my background is really in punk rock, politics, and graffiti. I studied land art at school in New Mexico, and my connection to really formal land art, its backgrounds or common practices at least, more or less ends there. I mean, I love Smithson and I think Lightning Field and Roden Crater are ridiculously weird and great. But, I think Double Negative and some of the Ant Farm stuff was just kind of arrogant and exploitative, manifest destiny shit. We built a smokestack in the desert and burned old tires.
AR: So perhaps more of a formal or thematic connection to Land Art, not necessarily method?
SW: This study and work really ended up being an accident on my already begun, and continuing exploration of the Land of the American West. I'm an outdoorsman. I float rivers and hike canyons as much as I possibly can. I don't generally see the Land itself as something I personally can interact with/change in a way that does it justice. I do think I try to use my work to bring both the creative and magical, and the scientific and data oriented, parts of the "land" back into the real world, our human world. I think that stems from a fascination with the aesthetics of it all in an almost de-contextualized way.
All my work is just little battles to insert moments, or objects, of some real meaning, back into the fabric of a society currently woven together with reality TV and highways and garbage like that, but maybe in an interesting and aesthetically conscious way.
AR: There are certain motifs that come up across your work that seem to posit the practice of natural history as a kind of guiding aesthetic principle. Yet the work still feels very personal to me, how do you fit your own subjectivity in with a sort of scientific, rational aesthetic or world view?
So again, this goes back to my personal connection with nature and my experiences in it, both within and outside society/civilization/etc. I am not a scientist, so the data I'm collecting, or the images I archive through my work, or whatever, are collected and processed in an art/creative/neurotic or simply pragmatic way. Most of it is pragmatic, and then becomes aesthetic.
AR: In my mind, the coyote represents you, and I see it all over your work. Is that right?
The use of the coyote, in particular, goes back to the first question of the line between science/technology/human world and natural/physical/outside world. The coyote is the only predator whose numbers range have increased concurrently with human growth. It's a survivor. I think by examining creatures, plants, hydrology, natural phenomena, etc, we can learn loads about ourselves. I think delving into the both the science and the deeply personal, magical, and/or mythical aspects of all of that has become very important in the work I've been doing. By smashing all of that together in the right context, I think we can create explanations of our world that also straddle that line. Those explanations have always been part of human culture, but are maybe escaping us more and more in modern western “civilization.”
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