Scott Froschauer lives and works in Los Angeles. With a background in lighting & production, he’s versed in navigating Hollywood, yet is refreshingly humble and down to earth. We learned about this artist while attending Superfine Art Fair in LA. While I’m not typically a selfie queen, Froschauer’s reflective work drew me in.
Thankfully, Instagram makes it easy to keep up with those we’re inspired by. I came across Froschauer’s ‘How Far to Now’ sign while scrolling through my feed. This piece deeply resonates with me because of my love for The Flaming Lips medley, All We Have is Now. I listed to this tune nonstop around the time I realized magic is real. It’s a special one. Seeing Frochauer’s interstate sign was the literal sign I needed to reach out in regards to our summer exhibition, Stardust & Satisfaction, Art & Music. I’m naturally nervous when writing artists but found Froschauer particularly warm, charismatic and professional. Together we chose pieces for the exhibition. In my humble opinion, it was our best show yet. I feel honored to work with such talent.
Lorenza Pavesi has been a vibrant presence at Glenn Dallas this summer. After meeting Froschauer at the gallery, she reached out to learn more about his process, inspiration & philosophies. Read on for the exclusive interview.
Scott Froschauer, interviewed by Lorenza Pavesi
Lorenza Pavesi: Recently Santa Barbara had the opportunity to see part of your ‘Word on the Street’ project at Glenn Dallas Gallery’s Stardust & Satisfaction, Art & Music exhibition. While the work was well received, I think it is safe to say that the signs’ “natural habitats” are on the streets, roads and public spaces. That’s where the signs come to life. You adopt the universally recognized format of street signs and subvert their meaning. The viewer is no longer treated as a passive, obedient recipient of commands and the traffic sign that was originally intended to impart orders and warnings is now used to encourage reflection and contemplation. This reappropriation of signs and symbols and the subversion of their meaning is reminiscent of the culture jamming or guerrilla communication tactics. While culture jamming is considered a form of political activism mainly directed at consumerism, the messages that you chose to deliver through the signs are not necessarily of a political nature. It seems that beyond the desire to turn negative into positive, there is a deeper critique within your work. Would this be a correct assumption? Can you tell us more about the origins and influences of this particular body of work.
Scott Froschauer: I think art needs to operate on multiple levels to reach deeper goals. For example, some can view my street signs as “fun and playful” which is a perfectly reasonable assessment. There has to be a seduction at first contact or no one will notice the work, let alone dig deeper. The “fun” element serves to get that first look. The majority of viewers will leave it at that, but then there are these deeper levels that are at work which the viewer might or might not consciously comprehend. The subversion of culturally established signifiers is what the viewer will read as “playful” even if they aren’t recognizing the political act of undermining the “tyranny” of everyday systems of coercion. Replacing the coercive language of the signs “Do Not Enter, Wrong Way, etc” with positive, constructive language is the key, and most political aspect of the work. I think of systems that motivate people and those systems, for me, fall into two categories, either coercion or inspiration. I’m replacing a system of coercion with a system of inspiration. Replacing a threat of destruction with a hope of creation. This changes the role of the speaker (the voice of the sign) from a monolithic judge to an empathetic partner. The final layer of the work is to offer that empathy to the viewer with a thought that the viewer will accept that empathy and embody it. The goal of the work is to generate more empathy in the world. That is a decisively political act. You can of course deliver positive messages using other platforms but by adopting the traffic sign format you also count on the element of surprise: the familiar becomes unfamiliar causing maybe a moment of shock followed by a reassurance.
LP: Can you tell us more abut this unpredictability factor in your work? Would you say that our built environment has become predictable and homogenous? What kind of reaction are you hoping to trigger from the “unaware passer-by”?
SF: The notion of “the quotidian” or “the everyday” is critical to engraining culture. We get into a set of tracks that we try to replicate, day after day. Imagining that we are creating a system that provides us safety and security today and that those trucks will keep us on the road of safety and security tomorrow and beyond. Our culture is designed to sell us products to shore up those tracks and scare us that we have gone off the tracks so we need to buy this one thing to get back on the tracks. It’s that shock of being off the tracks that marketing depends on. If you think you are safe and secure then you don’t need buy anything new. It’s my goal with the work is for anyone who might have been knocked off their tracks to stumble something that isn’t a product. The work is an offering that the answer to your security is actually within you. It’s an offer of self assurance rather than the marketing technique of offering self-alienation. That “push off the tracks” is best performed when the viewer isn’t expecting it. By placing the signs in the everyday environment “hiding in plain sight” the work aims to disturb the everyday. I’ve had people tell me that they have walked past one of my signs for months and not realize that it wasn’t a “normal” sign. When that realization happens it not only impacts that moment but it draws into question how many other signs might be in the viewers everyday life operating in this way. From that perspective the works goals are to change the viewers interaction with their everyday and inject a notion that surprise could exist around any corner.
LP: Let’s chat about your connection with the Burning Man organization. You attend the event regularly and contribute in many ways, with your art and through voluntarism. This involvement is a particularly exciting part of your work as an artist and activist. we’d love to know more.
SF: I am fairly involved in local politics. In Los Angeles there is a system called the Neighborhood Councils, which I am an elected member of. I have worked with the City of LA and the Department of Transportation to make over the main thoroughfare in my neighborhood to make it safer for bicyclists, equestrians, pedestrians and motorists. I believe in a well run government as part of the solution, and participation from the population is a key element of the system succeeding. From my perspective, Burning Man has incredible levels of self-governance and participation. The key to them achieving this comes from acculturation. The past few years Burning Man has recognized that new participants need to be exposed to a culture of responsibility so that they can understand how to participate in it. Spreading that ethos, beyond the event that happens in the Black Rock Desert is a critical compost of the Burning Man Project and is a focus of my work.
The US Conference of Mayors is an organization that brings together hundreds of mayors from around the country to share ideas about local governance. Burning Man sends a delegation to the event and I am proud to have been a member of that delegation for the past two years. As it turns out, mayors are very interested in the community building techniques that Burning Man has evolved. It’s incredible to see the Burning Man ethos spread into the halls of government.
During the Burning Man event the conference sends a delegation of Mayors to the Playa to learn about the systems Burning Man uses to create an entire city in the middle of nothing. Black Rock City is a marvel of infrastructure and has many lessons for how to rapidly deploy services for things such as natural disasters. The mayors also get to see firsthand the levels of participation that occurs at Burning Man. I have been fortunate enough to lead a tour of mayors to see the art of Burning Man, but also to give them context for the social structures that Burning Man provides for participants. A perfect example of this is The Temple, a structure that recurs year after year in different forms, built by different artists, but always serving a similar civic duty. The Temple is a place for addressing grief, something that American culture lacks in a civic form. It is amazing to see mayors enter into the space a recognize the power of a community allowing grief to be expressed, and the way in which complete strangers come to support one another. We see this sort of thing in times of massive tragedy, whole cities coming together to support one another, but we don’t see this on a daily basis. We revel in the community that comes together when we face adversity, but we don’t recognize the constant adversity individuals face. Experiencing that with the mayors is something that I could never have dreamt of.
LP: Glenn Dallas Gallery additionally exhibited pieces from another body of work of your’s called “Gunpowder Gutenberg.” This project includes images produced by detonating gunpowder into canvas. In my view, the nature of this particular work is different from the street signs in the sense that the piece doesn’t necessarily need to be placed in a specific environment or context in order to produce a certain reaction from the public. However, in this work as well there is a strong underlying message or critique. The association between the material used (gunpowder from very specific weapons) and the image is what makes the pieces so powerful. We’d love to hear more about this association of medium and message.
SF: It’s common for someone to say that they see a big divide between my street signs and some of my other work, like the Gunpowder Gutenberg prints. I see all of my work as being political. I think good art needs to work on multiple levels. First, it needs to seduce the viewer. If you don’t catch the viewers eye in the first place, then you never get the opportunity to draw them in deeper. In the case of the street signs they are fun and playful at first glance, but they work on multiple levels of culture jamming and subverting systems of signification ultimately working on replacing coercion and alienation with empathy. To me, creating empathy is a directly political act.
The Gunpowder pieces also work the same way for me. At first glance the textures are seductive, the smoke trails and burnt canvas, but on further inspection a more political message comes out culminating in the discussion of the use of specific gunpowders to create the images. The work has layers, which is what I look for.
LP: What are some techniques, mediums, or ideas that you want to explore further in your career that you have not yet had the chance to explore?
SF: I’m working on several larger scale ideas at the moment. For instance, I’m interested in the space of the Drive-In movie theatre. It holds so many elements of our collective past. It is a statement about acculturation and the use of film to create an American narrative, but it’s also a story about desegregation and our automobile based society, which I find particularly a particularly interesting juxtaposition with current thoughts about land ownership and homelessness seeing that many drive-ins have turned into RV parks. I’m also really into mirrors. I’ve been doing work with printing photos on mirrors that I create by hand pouring silver onto glass, but also I’ve been doing some work with one way mirrors, like an installation I did for the Toronto MOCA, and mirror polished stainless steel. There’s something about seeing ourselves reflecting in the work that I’m really interested in.
While Stardust & Satisfaction, Art & Music has come to an end, Glenn Dallas Gallery looks forward to working with Froschauer in the future. Don’t forget to follow @sfroschauerart on Instagram – you’ll surely be inspired!
For a catalog of Froschauer’s work, don’t hesitate to e mail firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re always happy to send info about those we work with.