The pandemic has infected, and affected every corner of our lives and culture is no exception. Since French artists can no longer travel to the Bay Area, Villa San Francisco hosts micro-residencies named “Hatch Series” curated by Candace Huey (Galerie Re.Riddle) with local artists, regardless of passport.
As part of the selection process, the candidate is asked to address the following question: “How do you take on the most pressing challenges of our time?” From what we could see, Scott McKinney was close to the perfect candidate with his performance created for Villa San Francisco.
After only one minute within the interview, he explained “I’m always looking to explore the questions that come up in my daily life in creative ways, processing troubling ideas through visual thinking”. But what does he mean by “troubling ideas” at this very moment?
It’s obvious that McKinney is very aware and informed about the digital world that surrenders our daily lives and that he is concerned with the potential excesses that might come with it; excess of security, excess of trackability, excess of surveillance…
Referring to an article from The Verge describing how the French public transportation and the Chinese authorities used AI and facial recognition to track people wearing masks during the pandemic, Scott McKinney raises a key question that is “Is it surveillance or care?”. Leveraging those technologies is probably a good thing to protect populations during the time of a major crisis but why would it be stopped when the crisis is over? And what will it be used for?
This ambiguous feeling brought McKinney to look closer to his own environment and the usage of facial recognition in the USA where more and more video surveillance cameras are in place.
He mentioned the fact that Wired and a couple of other magazines reported about facial recognition not being reliable for black people in general, and in particular for black women.
I’m not so concerned about my personal data, my fear is for the groups on the edge.
“Does that increase inequality between privileged communities and black communities?” And he adds “I’m not so concerned about my personal data, my fear is for the groups on the edge.”
In his performance called “Watch over us / Look down on us” at Villa San Francisco, he used video to introduce two avatars, a machinic one and a human-looking one… and he explores the divide between the promises of surveillance technology and the reality of living in a state of observation.
“Watch over us” shows the optimistic side, supported by a monologue and poetry. In contrast, the second half “look down on us” is a sort of breakdown when the tool does not provide the expected result and the frustration it creates.
Scoot McKinney performance at Villa San Francisco
A few snapshots from Scott McKinney
How did you live the COVID lockdown?
Confinement has expanded my message.
How do you envision your art post Covid?
I’m not sure. To be honest, this situation has gotten me involved in a lot of work that relies less on the gallery space. I recently finished up a narrative video game project and my work for the residency will be a streaming video performance.
What’s special about the Villa San Francisco space?
The proximity to Mount Sutro open space, which is the perfect place to recalibrate and take a hike as a quick break.
How are you connected to France?
My mother’s family immigrated from France to Canada around 4-5 generations back, but my personal connection to France has been through street art and animation. I’ve been following artists like JR and C215 for a while, and films like I Lost my Body, MFKZ, and Persepolis.
Top of your mind, who is your favorite artist right now?
Barry McGee has been a long time favorite, I love the way that he combines text and pattern in his works.
Where can we see your work and follow you?
Villa San Francisco was made possible by the collaboration of the Cultural Services of the Embassy of France in the United States, the Institut de France, the Consulate General of France in San Francisco, and the French American Cultural Society (FACS) but also supported by local partners such as UC Berkeley, and generous donors.