Artist to Artist: Bruce Burris interviews Bill Santen

Artist to Artist: Bruce Burris interviews Bill Santen


by Bruce Burris
Bill Santen was first introduced to me as a filmmaker, but really it seems like he is up to just about everything under the sun. He says, “my background as an artist is in painting and songwriting. I did not start working with film and video until a few years ago, while attending UK. Because I create ‘artworks’ as a way of solving problems, my problems have seemed to dictate the specific medium. For example, I was asked to create a mural for the UK Children’s Hospital, the contract specified that the artwork had to be removable, so, the work is a removable relief-sculpture. The medium for Swap was chosen similarly. I will be moving to NY soon and I needed to get rid of lots of stuff. I feel that our interest in the Digger’s projects inspired an artwork that focused on exchange.”

Bruce: Recently I saw a wonderful video/ installation of yours, ‘What Would Neil Young Do?’ at Land Of Tomorrow (L.O.T.) gallery. You attached a monitor to an exterior wall of the gallery (3rd St. near Midland) which played a loop of a vintage (b+w), Neil Young concert for a number of days and nights. For me the Neil Young piece brought up some very uncomfortable and very contemporary questions about privilege, race, transition and neighborhood/community relationships.
Soon after that you and I were chatting about the Diggers (‘60s version) a confederation of activists, performers, anarchists, etc. who among other things opened up a number of ‘Free Stores’ around San Francisco where items could be freely taken or exchanged. Sometime later you approached me with the idea for the Installation, ‘Swap’ which does literally involve a free exchange of goods and will be situated in the Downtown Arts Center. In many ways both pieces seem very much related, can you explain?

Bill: I really enjoyed working with L.O.T. ‘LOT’ is a contemporary art gallery situated in an ‘up and coming neighborhood.’ I wanted to create an installation that recognized both sides of that coin. To me, Neil Young represents the social-disconnection that is unavoidable. Swap celebrates informal and mutually beneficial transactions that occur in neglected areas. Outdoor freemarkets or barter-markets- whatever you wish to call them occur (usually informally) around the world, The Diggers Free Stores are hardly the only example. They usually work very simply, people give away things they do not need in exchange for things they want. I am hoping that viewers will rethink their definition and expectation of art by creating a physical dialog with it. Initially the installation/free store will be stocked by the artists with items chosen for their aesthetic, utilitarian or sentimental qualities, who knows what may occur when these items are taken and replaced with other items? (If indeed they are replaced at all). We are planning to document the changes, which will invariably occur, and visitors will be able to track the results from photo documentation alongside the work. Next, Santen goes to Columbia’s Visual Arts Program for the Fall, adding“I am very excited to be enrolled in Columbia’s Visual Arts MFA program for the fall, I with a focus in New Genres. However, before leaving for New York, I am finishing a relief sculpture for the UK Children’s Hospital. The sculpture features fifteen strange and happy animals, into outer space.”

“Swap” is part of June 18 Gallery Hop. Downtown Arts Center. Bring something to Swap.