Peter Scott

Peter Scott, Untitled (Interior With Viewing Panel), 2018, ink-jet print on clear adhesive vinyl, 40 x 70 1/2". Installation view, the Suburban, Milwaukee.

The artist, writer, and curator Peter Scott continues his manifold explorations of urbanism and its relationship to representation and perception, as most recently staged in his shows at the Emily Harvey Foundation and Magenta Plains gallery, as well as his curatorial projects at his nonprofit Carriage Trade. An exhibition of his newest work, “Future City,” a perplexing play on fiction and authenticity, is on view at the Suburban in Milwaukee through February 10, 2019.

I PARTICIPATED in Front International in Cleveland last summer, and its curator Michelle Grabner then invited me to do a show at the Suburban in Milwaukee. Given my interest in urbanism, locality, and media, the Suburban seemed like an ideal site to do a project in. I think the venue’s name refers in a sort of ironic way to the contemporary condition of urbanism, which is an increasingly homogeneous one. The building has both a picture window and a mansard roof. It’s a pastiche of architectural styles that also has the feel of a home, with shutters and a pitched roof. 

The work that led to “Future City” was a series of photographs, included in my “Arcadias” show last spring at Magenta Plains, that document life-size banner ads showing rendered interiors at luxury-condo construction sites around New York. I cropped these images in a way that makes the fiction of the ad look more real than its surroundings. You can see glimpses of the construction sites in my pictures, but the frame is mostly filled with the illusion of the ad itself. This confusion between the real and the fake expressed a disorientation that I felt in Williamsburg post–Bloomberg rezoning, when the neighborhood shifted dramatically. In some ways, you almost didn’t know where you were. You’d have to double-check that the place where you planned to meet someone still existed before going out, or you might find when you got there that it had been displaced by one of the many franchise stores that started to appear in the neighborhood.

More recently, I’ve been photographing smaller-scale ads found on green plywood fencing around luxury residential construction sites. I noticed that many of them were defaced by graffiti. I came across comments like “Nobody can afford this, go away,” signed by “Maestro,” written on top of an ad showing an idealized version of urban life. The appeal of these “written over” ads is how they pit the “hip urbanism” of lifestyle culture, which is almost like propaganda, against a message that breaks their hermetic nature. The messages are sometimes incoherent, are occasionally sharp, and bring you back to the fact that you’re on the street. In photographing these marked-up ads “straight” and undoctored, my goal was to document the friction between the two. Documenting these reactions to a “future city” is a way of describing two overlapping worlds: an image world imposing an urban fantasy on the public realm, and a real world responding to that fantasy. 

The picture window at the Suburban provided a great opportunity to address the imposition of the private on the public realm. When I lived in Holland, I often experienced an odd moment when walking down the street and passing a picture window. Suddenly, you’re confronted by a family sitting on the couch in a perfectly arranged living room, a bit like a shop window. You’re on a narrow sidewalk in Amsterdam, and you’re almost repelled because this private scene is pushing out on you so aggressively. You can’t stare in because it feels like a violation of privacy. I see this as a facet of Calvinism where the family is showing that they have nothing to hide—they’re exhibiting proper family behavior. Everyone is a model for everyone else. People watch out for each other, but it also presents a condition of perpetual surveillance. If you fast-forward to glass-curtain-walled homes in New York, it’s a similar phenomenon, except that what’s being expressed are ambition and the production of envy, as opposed to the production of the proper family unit. In a city of ambition and consumption, that’s the proper behavior; that’s what you need to apply yourself to. In a sense, a lot of these ubiquitous steel and glass luxury condos are also like display windows. 

To “activate” the Suburban’s facade, I printed one of my photographs of luxury-condo ads on clear vinyl and installed it in the picture window. At night, the image functions like a light box. It advertises the promise within, but there’s a disconnect in that the furniture of the “new” interior doesn’t fit with the clunky brick facade, neocolonial shutters, and mansard roof, this hodgepodge of middle-class domesticity. This is exactly what I was after, to put these two things into conflict. It’s a kind of displacement. The interior within has been replaced with an interior that promotes a lifestyle culture that has no relationship to existing conditions. 

The image in the window incorporates a viewing panel like the ones found on construction sites, allowing you to look in at the exhibition through a kind of portal. The pictures in the show replicate the outside, to some extent. They’re adhered to the wall, a bit like posters on any given street, documenting lifestyle ads with graffiti scrawled on top, so that the outside is brought in, and vice versa. From inside, the translucent image in the Suburban’s picture window can be seen through during the day. At night, from the outside, the glowing window image becomes like a stage set; it fictionalizes the physical facade.

During the day, when you look out the window from inside the gallery, the image of the interior mingles with the existing buildings across the street. You see a Frank Gehry building or some other iconic high-rise in the window of the fictional interior of New York, and the sky in the fictional interior merges with the actual sky in Milwaukee. Again, this speaks to the notions of disorientation and dislocation, and the grafting of these values onto existing conditions. That’s a big part of the whole show, really—the notion that things are grafted on, an overlay. An ad is pasted onto a plywood wall, which has been imposed on a city block, and then an expression of dissent is grafted on top of it. There’s a layering, which is not exactly archeological, but there are traces of actual experience—amid all of the fraudulence and all of the fiction.