Artist Interview: Scott Stark

Why was it important for you to make your installation interactive?
Too often viewers of art are presented with an invisible “do not touch” rule, usually reinforced by a nearby security guard, creating a virtual barrier between them and the work; I’m interested in having viewers engage with the work on a more physical level. More importantly, by inviting viewers to touch some aspect of the work, they’re made aware of the physical surroundings of the installation, and of their own participation in its creation. Viewers will be invited to add their own shadows to the projections; they can also rattle the hanging wooden slats, xylophone-style, to create rudimentary musical tones, and send the projected light into scintillations of organized disarray.

What was your intention in using natural ephemera?
Low-Res Arborscope deals with natural elements on three distinct levels: the raw, bare tree branches; the hanging wooden slats that serve as a “screen,” which are human-derived versions of the same material; and projected video imagery, also of natural objects such as trees and leaves. So you have the real, the manufactured, and the mediated, which can represent the varied levels of human relationship to the natural world in contemporary culture.

Perhaps the earliest concept of “cinema” was the way early humans saw light and shadow from a nearby campfire flickering onto trees, boulders and other ephemera in the nighttime wilderness. This installation attempts to recreate that kind of organic, pre-cinema experience, augmented by human intervention and shaped by contemporary technologies.

What was your inspiration for the work? What was your goal?
My initial goal was to create a “low-resolution television” screen, using the 20 or so hanging wooden stakes to crudely mimic scan lines on a tv monitor. In the realm of today’s media culture there’s an urgency to create images of ever-higher resolution; this screen, which might look like something created in prehistoric times, playfully contradicts that urgency. By projecting light onto the stakes, and having it pass through the gaps between them. the natural ephemera behind them, including tree branches, leaves, rocks and other materials, come alive with mysterious, flickering light that travels up the length of the branches and segments them with pulsing shadows. I want visitors to explore, to walk around the piece and discover for themselves the random little pockets of perceptual phenomena, such as the way an image is distorted along the curvature of a limb or on the side of a boulder, or the way the shadow of a tree branch on the opposite wall creates a living silhouette. I’ve created an environment where, hopefully, magical and unexpected things can happen.

Scott Stark has made over 80 films and videos since the early 1980s, and has created numerous moving image installations, live performances and photo-collages. He received an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and served on the Board of Directors of the San Francisco Cinematheque from 1984-1991. His work has shown nationally and internationally in venues as diverse as New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the San Francisco Cinematheque, the Film Festival Rotterdam, the Tokyo Image Forum, and many others. His 16mm film Angel Beach was invited into the 2002 Whitney Biennial, and in 2007 he received a Guggenheim Fellowship. His 2013 film The Realist showed at numerous worldwide film festivals and was on several year-end “best” lists. His work has garnered numerous awards. He is the webmaster for Flicker (, the web resource for experimental film and video since 1995. Scott divides his time between San Francisco, CA and Austin, Texas where he is co-director of Experimental Response Cinema.

About the Interviewer
Carolina Quintanilla serves as Interim Gallery Creative Partnerships Manager for SOMArts Cultural Center. She has a B.A. in Asian American Studies and is an Ethnic Studies MA candidate at San Francisco State University.

The exhibition: Timeless Motion is opening February 18th and on view from February 18th – March 23rd, 2016.

Photo courtesy of Scott Stark. “Low-Res Arborscope”, digital video installation, 2015