We had the good fortune of connecting with Scot Wittman and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Scot, career-wise, where do you want to be in the end?
What’s that Jack Handy joke? When I die, I hope there are many people standing all around me at my death bed, and that all of them are saying the same thing – “he owed me a lot of money.” That of course is the opposite of what I want, although it is a funny joke. What I want most by career’s end has not deviated much over the years although it becomes ever more focused and contoured by wisdom.
Recent exhibition highlights will act as foundation for illustrating future hopes and dreams. In the past few years I’ve been included in the Whitney Biennial (in a collective), shown in Art|Basel the same year as Cattelan’s duct-taped banana (a fruitful reference point for my career), and received awards for photographs in group shows internationally. The works garnering such attention often are written off by other galleries, I believe, as being editorial or mere flash. Flash actually is a big part of the plan; I drag a studio’s worth of lighting out to pristine locations around the globe and photograph dancers in fantastic moments. Because I donate part of the sales to local nature conservancies, I have proof people are reacting to the work in an emotional manner. I could discuss more about how I got here, recounting my paralysis and my TEDx talk, but this is foundation for what I am looking to achieve by the end of my career. By the end of my career I hope I will have inspired more, rather than simply exhibited more. I am looking to win peoples’ hearts more, rather than win more awards. I am looking to use my visions as a tool to tip balances, rather than as a trade that decorates office buildings. I am looking to make ever more meaningful bodies of work in the hopes that all my experiences can help bring positive change. This evolution of my studio career is starting to happen through a growing roster of collaboration. I am lucky to be working with so many talented dancers. It’s delightfully nudging me to work in different mediums to continue to tell ever better stories and make more broad reaching statements. My end goal will be on the other side of the immediate horizon I find myself soon reaching. My immediate horizon has me working with engineers and ecologists and XR game designers to create a solo show happening in Boston that focuses on the impact of ice shrinking on the planet. If my trajectory continues from quaint graphite drawings of birds I made as a child (which I still happily make and of which soon a folio will be published in NYC) to cross-discipline sci-tech heavy solo exhibitions in major cities, then my hope is that I’ll continue this path by making work with tools not yet invented and I’ll be reaching people in ways not yet imagined. But perhaps I’ve misunderstood the question. Where do I want to be professionally? Ideally in a castle in Scotland.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I am a classically trained painter (by some art history giants – Joan Semmel just had a major show that I was happy to see in person), double degreed printmaker (with an MFA from Cranbrook, which was an amazing experience), considered to be a photographer (self-taught) who has made sculpture, installations, video (in two recent film festivals), and NFTs.
As a teenager I made works using xerox. I had a job working for Kinko’s Copies and I loved the medium, and quickly became enamored specifically with the xerox’d map. I was making six foot portraits of kings and queens by collaging together maps of territories they ruled, and portraits of 19th century explorers by collaging together xeroxes of maps made by their own hand!
My fascination with people and place remained; in recent years it has been represented photographically. Collaboration with dancers amidst spectacular landscapes allows viewers to consider personalities and provinces in a very different manner. I traded allusion for photographic reality. Rather than simple documentation, I stage moments on the edge of credibility in an effort to keep viewers’ attention. Rather than recording moments, I’m making statements.
While I am making discrete statements that are single frames, I find myself also able to make more complex statements that go beyond a single frame. In recent years I have used the opportunity of solo show exhibitions to stage full scale installations. One such show was titled “Cloning, Zoning, and the Shared Tiara.” The show involved a stuffed armadillo, a stump made entirely of hydrocal, an upside-down hanging Houdini, bird illustrations and audio looped bird calls, video projection, and a full-sized chocolate-covered skeleton. The skeleton wound up being the biggest challenge. The funniest part was it riding shotgun in my Honda Element on the way home after the show. It was winter and I was freezing so I’d jack up the heater, but then it would start to melt so I’d jack up the A/C. And the cycle continued like that. It continued like that until a cop pulled me over after a toll booth attendant called him. Too funny! Well, it all ended well. A chocolate shop near me has an annual Halloween window display, the cop has a great story, and most important – the show was very well received.
In my studio now, I’m preparing for my next major installation. It will be in Boston next year. Titled JUSTICE, I am working with engineers to fabricate sculptures that have ice-encased works melting at a specific rate. I am also working with XR game designers and choreographers to add an element of a virtual dance performance that is slightly larger than the gallery. There will be a range of other artworks involved, from the collectable to the ephemeral. I have found a mode of art making that is strong and distinct. By working in an interstitial space between performance and production I am enjoying shared moments of viewing and experiencing.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Dessert first! Definitely grab a slice of Amish-made Sweet Potato Pie at the famous Reading Street Terminal. Then, footsteps away, head into PAFA. The Pennsylvania Academy of Arts, founded in 1805, is the oldest and longest running art museum and school. Make sure you see both the portrait of Washington that looks just like the dollar bill, and also Kehinde Wiley’s Three Wise Men. There are other art museums in the immediate area I could see putting on the itinerary: The Barnes Collection a couple blocks away, The Rodin Museum a couple blocks away from the Barnes, and then along the same line is the iconic Philadelphia Museum of Art – Rocky steps and all. Near the PMA, Sedgely Woods in historic Fairmount Park is home to the second oldest frisbee disc golf course. Back in town, a fun place to eat healthy is Vedge. Then take a walk to tour Al Capone’s former residence: the Penitentiary – the audio tour narrated by Steve Buscemi is spot on. Before heading out to Fishtown, walk to Elfreth’s Alley: the nation’s oldest continuously inhabited residential street. The Clay Studio was at the end of the block; it’s recently relocated to a fantastic new mammoth building in Fishtown. After checking it out, walk over to the Philadelphia Brewing Company. Have a black cat lager, hang out on the yellow picnic tables and see who is represented by the highest number: musicians, babies, or pets.
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?
There are so many in my personal sphere I have recognized recently as nurturing, instrumental and influential. I dare not highlight one over the others here. I will however dedicate this to one magical land: Jacob’s Pillow. The blend of talent, passion, commitment and camaraderie is thick in the air on campus. During my first moment there, I crossed paths with a dancer who I admired and after showing him the back of my camera he immediately said “that’s fire – let’s work together!” I knew I was going to have a creative explosion of a time. Two months later the work was published. The administration who run the show there make it possible for such moments to happen easily – I know an enormous amount of heart and energy go into that. Pamela Tatge probably deserves a medal. I found Norton Owen to be a gem as well. The faculty offer enriching and expanding growth. The landscape itself, a small patch of land (that was a stop on the underground railroad!), is part resource, part oasis, and part creative crucible. As for the dancers, and the dances: inspirational. My career has been uplifted by Jacob’s Pillow: directly by close ties initiated on the lawn, profoundly by transcended moments on the Inside Out stage.