ON THE DIGITIZED INSTAGRAMMED CITY, a micro-interview with Peter Scott
I first met Peter Scott as curator and director of Carriage Trade, his innovative and in many ways ground-breaking non-profit gallery in Manhattan’s lower east side. His curatorial work is clearly an extension of his own practice and activism, presenting group shows, as he puts it, “not as a means to promote the careers of individual artists, but to provide contexts for their work that reveal its relevance to larger social and political conditions prevalent today.” His response to the social and political is evident in his new work. Scott, who is also that rare gift of being an artist who is writes beautifully, shared a few words (in writing) on one aspect of the making of the body of work that makes up Future City.
Elaine Sexton: You’ve described the process of making these images as, in part, a “writing over clichéd images of success” in Future City. Would you care to expand on this idea of “writing over” as a way of marking, altering and creating a new narrative of idealized city spaces?
Peter Scott: Through my interests in urbanism and media I’ve been drawn for some time to depictions of urban lifestyle culture in the form of ads for luxury residences found in the street. More recently I noticed these ads on construction fencing which are often defaced by graffiti. Since “authenticity” is at the forefront of the discovery of new neighborhoods, I thought there was an interesting resonance between the fantasy urbanism of the ads, which depict a seamless, conflict-free world of mostly young, hip, city dwellers and the aggressive intervention of tags and profanity over the top. It flattens the scene as it conflicts with and transgresses its hermetic nature. In a way it speaks to the idea of an increasingly abstracted relation to the city, digitized and Instagrammed, in tension with the city as it is, conflicted and full of competing interests.
I was also thinking about what one’s role as an artist is in all this. Documenting graffiti in the context of the ads is meant to acknowledge these conflicting and competing interests. Graffiti has recently functioned as a kind of urban décor, a nod to a once “edgy” city that now reinvigorates itself through appropriating expressions of the marginal and repurposing it for the safe provinces of transitioning neighborhoods. As an artist who experienced the transitioning of more than one neighborhood, these marked up ads speak to the alienating qualities inherent in the process through which this transition takes place. It’s quite obvious that these ads are looking past long time residents as they target newcomers. While I’m reluctant to attribute intent to those who are doing the “writing over,” the more explicit tags clearly reject outright the sense of entitlement which promotes buildings that will take their place.
For those not part of the urban dream world embodied in these lifestyle ads, life in NYC can be enormously challenging. A failing subway system, rapidly climbing rents, and a record homeless population exist in stark contrast to over-investment in glistening luxury pied-à-terre’s owned by “ghost” residents who rarely set foot in them. In other words, the legacy of the Bloomberg era, which promised a livable city achieved through running civic life like a business is much like the imagery in the ads, an urban fantasy which promotes envy and private amenities over the sustainability of community and neighborhood. While there are no policy proposals or coherent alternatives evident in the marking up of these ads, the images of hip, urban Disney Worlds are “spoiled” by a kind of graphic static or noise, a welcome if ineffective challenge to the displacement and disappearance of those people and interests that don’t fit neatly into this script.
Peter Scott is an artist, writer, curator, and director of the non-profit gallery carriage trade. His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, most recently at the Suburban in Millwaukee, Magenta Plains and Richard Tattingier Gallery in New York, Front International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art in Cleveland, and Societe in Brussels. His writing on art and culture has appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Art Monthly, artnet, Artscribe, Grey Magazine, Made in U.S.A., artUS, and The Architect’s Newspaper, as well as several exhibition catalogs. His projects have been featured in The Brooklyn Rail, Time Magazine, The New Yorker, The Huffington Post, The New York Times, Artforum, The Observer, The Village Voice, The Boston Globe, Frieze, Hyperallergic, and artnet magazine, among other publications.