In Conversation: Scott Billings

Hannah Marsland

With ‘Flat Moon’, Scott Billings deviates from his primarily video-based installation work to produce an abstract show. In this interview, we chat with the Vancouver-based artist about the new works created during his residency and the personal curiosities that drove them.

Read on to gain deeper insight into ‘Flat Moon’, and be sure to join us for his artist talk this Saturday, July 13th at 2pm in the gallery.


What was your experience like in the Burrard Arts Foundation Residency program?


While BAF provides artists access to studio space during the residency, what stands out was BAF’s open attitude and encouragement to use the space as you would like –at any time of the day or night. And I will admit that I do enjoy late nights holed up in the studio.

For me, the BAF studio space became something of a half-way space between my studio in the city and the gallery. I didn’t use the space to fabricate; rather, it became a space to resurrect some dusty curiosities I had hoarded years ago, and place them in a kind of ad-hoc arena: watch them fight it out or let them suggest portmanteau-like alliances.

In any city, give artists space and things will happen. It’s not that Vancouver forgot this, maybe it’s just a little too (pre)occupied at the moment.


What was different about these new works from installations that you’ve done in the past?


I typically start making and building long after I feel an idea has begun to resolve itself, or at the very least, having decent footing over a body of research or some specific cultural thing, namely the subject of the work. But when I teach sculpture, I am quite emphatic and relentless about pulling students out of their sketchbooks and getting their hands dirty right away. Sculpture is not a plan! A good friend and fellow artist called me on this, suggesting that I arbitrarily obey and criticize Sol LeWitt’s quote, simply because I like saying the word perfunctory. (it is such a good word, though). So, the residency became a way to force early dirty hands onto myself. I did not fare so well; resolution still pending.


You wrote an artist statement that included fictional prose to accompany the exhibition. What’s the relationship between your physical and your written practice?


Coming out of my MFA I kept some momentum with academic writing. It was a catalyst for studio rigour at that time, no doubt. Writing itself was exciting because, like studio art making, the process was one to be figured out by the maker:

– reify the ineffable (try out some hand-me down words that do not really fit),

– relish in the bliss of mellifluousness (content can be secondary if it sounds really good)

– tint cynicism with a dash of a theory and dollop of wit (bad-ass smart-ass)

– use the word ‘perfunctory’ at least once (the reader will notice if you use it twice because it is such a good word)

Writing went really well with coffee in the morning, but sometimes I’d rather sleep in. Whoever said “I don’t like writing, I like having written” nailed it. My process was flawed. Mellifluousness masks the torture of the process of making–a process which itself might be the better subject than the thing I was writing about.

I suppose the text accompanying the show is an attempt to try a different process. Maybe it was something similar to the approach I take with slide lectures in studio classes, where segues between ideas can ride on the materiality of the visuals, and digressions are welcome because they might just be enough to trigger an idea for the student.

Kim Nguyen’s style of writing has always seemed to be as pleasurable to make as it is to read. Her recent text accompanying Abbas Akhavan’s exhibition at the Wattis Institute feels more like visual art making to me than writing. Her suggestive poetics do not seem to be the result of meticulous wordsmithing but some kind of sculptural pursuit that happens to repurpose borrowed truths with the materiality of text. Perhaps I tried to emulate this: making a text instead of writing one.

I like that you called my text “fictional prose”. It is certainly concerned with fiction but there’s really nothing fictional in it. It’s pretty much a collection of borrowed terms and cultural anecdotes regarding materialism. I am interested in the way materialism is wrapped up in truth or the way truths are told with material: this thing is here, I can feel it, it is thick and heavy just like you and me, it does not need an arbitrary signifier between us, it cannot lie.

When things are used like words to tell truths it is a deceptive attempt to embed fiction deep within its undeniable material presence. But fictions can only sit on the surface, between you and it. Fictions mask the thing with a transparent layer of zero thickness. Material fictions reside as tricks and ruses, they are hoaxes orchestrated by deceptive sculptural techniques. A successful material hoax specifically and intentionally masks the process of its making. Masking is the subject. Unlike writing, the torture of the process of the making is the subject.


What were some of your inspiration points, whether from the fine-art world or not, that led you to the creation of Flat Moon?

  • NASA uploaded 3D models of the Apollo moon landing sites
  • A WestJet pilot ‘s eyes were burned by green laser light while flying to Orlando
  • A priest ran in a burning Notre Dame to save the Crown of Thorns
  • Four circus tigers maul an Italian tamer and play with his body for 30 minutes

These all happened recently, on the same day I believe.


What elements from this exhibit would you like to explore further?


The meat slicer zoetrope conundrum of eliminating adjacent frame illumination using clear resin 3D prints by controlling laser light through polished Z surfaces and diffuse XY surfaces is tortuous, pleasurable, and still not fully solved.

See Scott Billings ‘Flat Moon’ at BAF Gallery until July 27th. Find us at 258 E 1st Ave, open Tuesday to Saturday, noon to five.