We had the good fortune of connecting with Susan Scafati and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Susan, can you share the most important lesson you’ve learned over the course of your career?
Lessons are always revealing themselves, but at this moment I’ll say to stay attuned to the rhythms of the tides… aka *Pay Attention!* When the pandemic first began, it reminded me of living in New York City during September 11. Not just the trauma of seeing the world as I knew it change forever, but the ways in which it crystallized the frailty and biases of our systems of meaning. One trauma brings up all traumas. However, as Rumi says, “the wound is the place where the light gets in.” In photography the term “sensitize” refers to making a material sensitive to light. I like translating this idea to myself – the practice of keeping senses awake, through meditation and other rituals, to receive the stimulus of the world and reflect it back. I really admire people whose work intuits, in real time, the essence of our living. Artist Meriem Bennani and writer Lawrence Wright come to mind, whose pandemic insights this year have been gifts above the noise. Adrian Piper’s work four decades after it was made still illuminates what it feels like to be here and now. Truth-sayers. When it comes to artists’ careers, everyone’s path is different. The weaving of that path is a lot like the act of creating – a lot of chance, a little luck, and some choice here and there. Just a couple weeks before a bat, pangolin, and perhaps a few government affiliates ;-o introduced the pandemic, I had just hung up a drawing of a rolling wave collaged onto playing cards by Nam June Paik at my front door to remind myself about the role of chance. I hung it next to a poster of surfers (Catherine Opie’s “Untitled”) to contrast the drama of the wave with the tranquility of floating, watching for it. Nam June Paik’s wave drawing resembles Hokusai’s “Great Wave” print, and coincidentally a couple days after I hung the print, my mother-in-law invited me to explore reproductions of it at my neighborhood bookstore. Seeing the wildly different variations of this mass-reproduced iconic artwork symbolizes another important art career lesson, that may be summed up in one word: “Rashomon.” James Turrell’s light installations also come to mind. Both are lessons in the fuzzy relationship between seeing and perceiving. The way you see your world is subjective and pliable. And oh! by the way, how is it that “Great Wave” is the only artwork that’s made it to the emoji language?! Is that kinda like Louis Armstrong being on the Voyager Golden Record? See, I’m less interested in the icon itself as much as I am the making of it — why/what made it become one, and what that says about the way our society is organized at a given point in time. So to conclude where I began: staying attuned to the ebbs and flows of my own intuition has been essential for my art-making.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I’m a multidisciplinary artist whose practice centers around creating light metaphors to reflect on destabilizing archetypes and cultures in flux. I make photo-based works, installations, and videos. I grew up making art with a broken camera. Rather than get it fixed, I shot with all the light leaks for a couple decades. That element of light play has always been in my work, and I’ve taken my ideas from paper to space and back. I’m known for large-scale photo-based murals and plexiglass installations which have lived at museums, galleries, and public spaces. My projects pivot around a central idea that I mine across many materials and mediums, often for years and years! My ongoing interest in how personal and collective mythologies are constructed has led me to explore different subjects, including archives, smart phones, urban development, and bullfighting. A recent opportunity that was a dream come true was a 2-story installation at the Austin Central Library. From the moment it went up, people from all over have shared photos of their experiences interacting with my installation and the light patterns it creates. When I give a talk or teach a class, I like to tell my students “you can say a million things about your art, but at the end of the day what you should ask yourself is, do people look at it? why or why not?” Those are questions I’ve asked myself many times! So anytime I put something into the world, and see people looking at it, that’s a gift of gifts that makes me feel infinitely grateful. I also like sharing smaller, more intimate series on instagram. Since I’m a light artist, the stories feature is particularly interesting to me because it goes away just like the light. Right now l’m posting “pillow paintings” in which I capture the sun’s changing path as shifting light patterns across my pillow. I’m psyched to share some new works-in-progress soon! Let’s connect on Instagram @susanscafati so I can keep you updated!
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
My fave thing about Austin is the way the river winds through it – a reminder to keep life balanced with nature & play. When you visit, be sure to bike/walk/kayak along Lady Bird Lake. Try a super delish Rogue Radish bowl, which has been my go-to this year. On Saturday, hit the downtown farmer’s market for tamales, tacos, Brazilian bread & empanadas. Swim in one of our springs. Stop by Austin Central Library, walk up the stairs past my art installation in the windows (how’s the light look today?!), up to the rooftop oasis to take in the views (ahh). Walk 15 minutes east & take a moment to thank Josef Kristofoletti in your head for adding 10 floors of color to downtown with his “Tau Ceti” mural. See how many green, blue & yellow Tyvek wraps you can spot around the city while you’re at it, for a lil perspective about the city’s constant construction. Catch up with friends on some greens or a brewery. Call it a day before you have to dodge swerving electric scooters in the dark, but look up to see a moonlight tower before you do. Wake up & drive to Lockhart to eat BBQ until you can’t. On your way back into Austin, drive by Alejandro Aravena’s cool red glass buildings on St. Ed’s campus, then hit UT campus to see the “Eyes” marble sculptures that Louise Bourgeois carved when she was 71!! Next hit Contemporary Austin’s Laguna Gloria site to see sculptures by Nicole Eisenman, Paul McCarthy, Wangechi Mutu, Carol Bove and more. Check out Fusebox, MOHA, & local galleries to see what else is going on!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I’m thankful for everyone/thing that’s come into my life that’s showed me what I do and don’t want, and made me who I am today. For my lifelong friends and family who love me forever. For each collector/curator/
Colin Doyle, Anna Mazurek, Jordan Nelsen, Cody Bjornson, Harry Ransom Center, Susan Scafati