Q&A: Alternatives – Scott Redford (part 1)
SCOTT REDFORD is an Australian practitioner hailing from the seaside resort of Surfer’s Paradise on Queensland’s southern coast. His practice spans a heterogeneous range of media from painting, sculpture and installation to photography, signage and surfboard graphics. While his engagement with art ideas is firmly international, his inspiration is local; the Australian Gold Coast with all its tourist glitz and surfer-boy who-gives-a-fuck attitude. In doing so, he challenges the assumptions of cultural hegemony by placing a city far removed from the so-called cultural centres of New York or Milan (or even Melbourne) and placing it at the epicentre of his world view. It is a cultural distance measured in more than miles, as he embraces and empowers the less-than-chic exuberance of the beachside lifestyle.
For more than 30 years, Scott Redford has addressed a diversity of visual politics from minimalism to surf-culture, queer art to post-war urban design. Increasingly his work is a mash-up of these ideas, creating something new and vigorous. Firmly rooted in the local vernacular, he and his work look out to the wider world by turning their back on the cosy coteries of the ‘art world’ cognoscenti.
THIS IS PART 1 of the Q&A ‘Alternatives’ interview with Scott Redford. To jump to Part 2 go here.
Do you think of yourself as an artist?
I suppose I’m an ‘artist’ as I’ve been that professionally for 30 years, but I am interested in such a range of things that I’m not sure I’m a normal artist. However, most creative people today find ‘artist’ a restrictive and perhaps redundant term, everyone today takes photos, and expresses and contextualises themselves via social media, so really we should say everyone is an artist now, as Joseph Beuys and many others predicted.
Do you think an artist has a particular role or responsibility in the world? If so, what is this?
Well I think everyone is, or is capable of, expressing themselves and taking on the role of ‘artist’ if only for part of their time. The meaning of art no longer resides in the actual object anymore; it resides in the matrix of links that create meaning and cultural value today. I think the whole idea of ‘artist’ has been radically changed by Web 2 and will change further and faster.
In what ways will Web 2 change the concept of an artist and their work?
Who is art really for? The people. Who funds Australian Art? The public. Who increasingly are gaining confidence in their innate creative abilities? The public. Art is finally moving from an aristocratic position to a democratic position. And this will change the nature of the art made.
Old-school printed newspapers are obviously facing huge challenges; many journalists are losing their jobs. Soon the ‘press’ (which will be online) will be primarily an exchange between the consumer (the public) and the advertisers. There will be editors and writers but increasingly these jobs are being filled by anyone who can write and take a photo. Basically, the job of creator is now open to everyone. I think, this situation will be replicated across many areas including fine art?
Recently a 15-year-old geek solved the problem of an early warning test for deadly pancreatic cancer . He was quite up front about using “a teenager’s best friends”: Google and Wikipedia. Gamers are now being asked to use their amazing computer skills to solve many scientific problems. This is the future: people utilising the means of production for themselves. As many have said: in as much as we all make images and content, we are all artists.
This is only beginning; the real generational shift will come as the baby-boomers start to retire.
How do you see your role?
I see my role as laying bare the true means of the production of meaning at work in our culture now. How the ‘system’ of Contemporary Art obscures the real processes of power at play. I think it more useful to upend the hierarchical pyramid and allow the public the dominant role rather than rail against a ‘corrupt’ few. As Seth Price has said: “In our time there is no such thing as a bourgeoisie…It is possible that cultured people are merely a glittering scum that floats upon a deep river of production.”
If I understand correctly, you define the process of an artist in terms of expression; but you see your role more as an agent of change. Is that right? If so, do you think that, given the majority are involved in active self-expression (as you suggest is that case through Web 2), expression and agency have a relationship? If so, what is it? How will Web 2 change the world and not just those involved in the practices we call ‘art’?
The personal is political. Advocating change is self-expression. However, I feel that a form of ‘purge’ is somehow needed as well. My own slant is more and more to rethink an art ground zero of sorts. A bit like the way in which the Constructivists and Futurists wanted to take art back to its basics. But that is just me… In many ways I see this happening in the way images and ideas become ‘memes’ and how knowledge is being simplified and made accessible in Wikipedia. It’s just how a new generation refashions art and culture for their own uses, without being told to adhere to tradition. This is real revolution, helped by new technology not unlike the printing press, the camera, the supermarket, the car, penicillin, mass air travel before them. The V&A’s [Victoria and Albert Museum] Bowie exhibition in London has seen that institution’s biggest ever pre-sale ticket numbers. Film posters and original movie props now attain fine art prices and are rising. The high–low debate is being ‘resolved’ by the only people who really matter: the public.
In the Seth Price quotation, does ‘cultured’ equate with the notion of the connoisseur (someone with discerning ‘taste’), or is the implication that, today, most creative acts sit outside of what one might define as ‘culture’?
Yes. That quote by Price deftly skews the old Leftist notion that there is only a ‘middle class enemy’, but he maintains the old Leftist utopian notion of ‘production’. My reading is that the “deep river” Price refers to is a deeper notion of culture as all human production rather than a hierarchy of value overlaid onto human production to maintain a power structure.
Have you always thought in this way or have you changed direction in your philosophy and practice over the years?
I have but I didn’t have the knowledge and/or means to ‘collate’ my thoughts and hunches. Now I do and Web 2 has facilitated that, or at least it has given me an intellectual lack of fear, so to speak.
Can you give an example of an early work and a new work that demonstrate this development?
It’s not so much the works that have changed, it’s more about how I used to believe I had to impress certain writers and curators to get my work recognised; now I actively go the other way as I am confident enough that individuals can and do create meaning themselves. Individuals can now control the means of production of meaning.
So, I would point to my early refusal to cast my hometown of the Gold Coast in an ‘easy’ critical light. Instead, I insisted on an Andy Warhol/Robert Venturi form of universal optimism when thinking about the Gold Coast. Melbourne would have lapped up the easy leftism of the former, but remain uncomfortable about me choosing the latter. Mind you, to the elites the Gold Coast is a non-place, even though its Australia’s sixth biggest city!
In my recent work I am seeking to recast all Australian art as a fiction, to be utilised or ignored by the new Web-2 empowered individual as they see fit. Imagine if enough people stop believing; the whole edifice of power would collapse. Similarly, it only takes a few thousand people to bring a city to a halt or start a run on the banks. Power lives in constant fear of an organised public, which is why we have draconian laws and enforcement responses to curb dissent. In the ‘free’ West we ‘manage’ dissent. But we don’t have to let ourselves be managed. We have a choice.
My artworks are just props in a personal existential drama: My Own Private Idaho.
IN PART 2, Scott Redford critiques the way museums and big art biennales suck up all the ‘cultural air’ and goes on to question why art-gallery ‘junk’ is valued so highly. To read Part 2 go here.
Images (from the top):
Scott Redford [photo © Peter Morris]
‘Jack Andraka’s Pancreatic Cancer Breakthrough’ video by the Smithsonian Museum, Washington DC
Detail from the album cover shot for ‘Aladdin Sane’ [photo © Brian Duffy 1973], from the exhibition ‘David Bowie is’ at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London – 23 March to 11 August 2013
© Scott Redford ‘Proposal for a Gold Coast Public Sculpture / A Place in the Sun / Heath ’ 2005