Hometown: Rochester, NY
Current town: Philadelphia, PA
Job description: Teaching Artist, Organizer, Business Person
Bio: For the last 4 or 5 years Scott Bickmore has generated and organized several conceptually and collaboratively driven projects like The Monochromes Project, Bifocal Magazine, Braille-Embroidered Bracelets, The Bluebird of Happiness, ll Lincoln-Line ll, recordbooks, The Sewing Circle of Philadelphia, and PET. He is a teaching artist and works with outreach based organizations including the Mural Arts Program, Fleisher Art Memorial and Art Sanctuary. He recently directed the painting of props and backdrops for the Mummers Fancy Brigade Group, The South Philly Vikings, which were featured on channel 17 at the Convention Center. This Spring he will be starting a project in collaboration with the Philadelphia Opera, repurposing the musical Show Boat into a contemporary hip hop opera.
thesewingcircleofphiladelphia.com, monochromesproject.com, bifocalmagazine.com
Describe your current state of mind.
My current state of mind is focusing on achieving “a mind like water,” inspired by the self-help book, Getting Things Done by David Allen. It’s about walking around with, essentially, an empty head, knowing you’ve made choices and organized enough to feel like you’re only doing what you should be doing at the moment you’re doing it, and being free of that nagging feeling of having things hanging over your head. It’s about feeling productive and living in the moment.
What’s inspiring you?
Party Steve. Interacting with people in my karass and community, students, SEPTA, Benjamin Franklin…an appreciation for things, especially the people I love. Also, pets and music.
Describe your work/ current projects.
Right now I’m moving more into performance with a couple projects. The first one is called PET. We dress up like our favorite pets, sing songs about them and like to be pet. We’ve performed a couple times. We made our first run of costumes in collaboration with designers from Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters. Currently, we’re writing music and will be going into the recording studio soon. We’re also brainstorming on ways to collaborate and expand with form, like working with Philly PAWS and making interactive props like giant leashes, pet portraits, video and furrier costumes audience members can pet and wear during performances.
The other project is part of the Knight Foundation supported educational program Hip H’Opera, which is an inter-disciplinary collaboration between Art Sanctuary and Opera Philadelphia. I’m developing workshop curriculum for them based on the musical Show Boat. We’ll be “re-purposing” this cultural classic into several art forms, with the overall goal of piecing together an epic production and performance.
Tell us more about the Sewing Circle.
The Sewing Circle of Philadelphia is a challenge to traditional modalities of thought and approaches to activity. It’s real casual on the one hand but also demanding in ways that maybe get downplayed. Sometimes I wonder if people think I’m fucking with them and that “I’m organizing” this as a performance piece. As far as I can tell I’m being sincere and finding glimpses of genuine collaboration and seeing the potential exponential effects that come from this interaction–this idea of accepting community and that “we’re all in this together” and how important relationships are–between people principally, I guess, but also with the things around us, whatever they are, ranking regardless of any prejudice or preconception we could impose. This is the ultimate value and goal, and a metaphor I hope will guide the sewing circle, seeing this vision through, refining and clarifying it along they way, till the point of “tapping in,” and any accomplishment presides over any self-distinction or personal possession.
What is one of the biggest challenges you face as an artist/ community coordinator?
Money and working with people who seem to like the idea of being “an artist” and doing creative things but generally seem to subscribe to black and white and convergent thinking and traditional methods and materials and just don’t get it and ultimately aren’t a good fit for this kind of work, which I guess is a challenge in any industry. Vanity and fear and saying no for what seems like personal reasons and insecurities, while losing sight of what could be accomplished and helpful to people overall. Watching people abuse their positions and put themselves unnecessarily first at the expense of delicate feelings and hope and possibilities, especially with youth. That tears my heart out when I think about it too much. But I keep trying to find ways to navigate these challenges. I seek advice and consult mentors. I persist in trying to improve myself and the lives of others around me and keep working toward doing some good and contributing something worthwhile while I’m alive.
What’s your art background?
I learned art in public school growing up in Rochester, NY. I’m self-taught in a lot of ways. I took some art classes in college and studied at COFA in Sydney for a semester. In my adult life I mainly learned by doing, by getting the idea to do something, jumping into it, and then committing myself to the people involved and being held accountable to these collaborators and having to see things through by learning and figuring out whatever art processes or skills served the project. I also read Art Forum cover to cover for two years. I think that was something like how they say reading the New York Times cover to cover for fours years is like getting a college degree. Then I would go to all the ICA things or whatever contemporary art talks, events, openings, etc. in Philly I could find, sometimes in NY, and I’d talk to the speakers, artists, big wigs, the grad students–whoever would to talk to me. That’s kind of why I started Bifocal Magazine, so I’d have this excuse for approaching people and learning from them.
What’s been happening in your life?
I almost died last Summer. Sometimes I wonder if I died and went to heaven, which is some better version of what was happening before. I live in a city funded work/live space. I teach art in after school programs. When I have money I spend it fast because I like living well and being generous and then I get in these pickles and have to be resourceful. So I end up making everything like clothes, bags, and furniture, and I think this is where most of my creative activity comes from. It could be self-imposed…though I’m getting tired of living hand to mouth. It’s invigorating in a way and I did say I’m in heaven. I live with a profound appreciation for what I have, which resembles something like the artist life, dressing funny, going to weird parties and shows, being creative and eccentric, knowing and meeting interesting people, spending a lot of time at home tinkering around with my kitties, making time for people I love, and all in all just enjoying life as much as I can.
What’s next for you?
I need to figure that out. I’m working on several projects that I guess sound exciting and have potential to develop. I’d like to find the big gig, something more focused and sustainable, so I’m not running around doing a bunch of little things.
What is your dream project?
Running a business like Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst, but with more utility and public accessibility. Maybe some kind of political position, or something that embodies a beautiful balance of organization, ingenuity and physical activity.
Are you involved with any organizations (you haven’t already mentioned)?
The NKCDC supports the sewing circle. I go to EKNA meetings when I can. I’m working with an organization called Enactus, which is part of the Wharton School of Business at Penn. I’d like to join more organizations.
What are a few of your favorite spots in your area?
I like to stroll around my block in Kensington around York and Coral and go to the Fairgrounds to smoke my pipe. Harry’s Smoke shop and Holtz Cigars in Center City. And I love the El Bar.
Favorite artists and why? People in your field whom you most admire:
Paul McCarthy, Gordon Matta Clark, Francis Alÿs, Joseph Beuys, Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol, Anthony Burdin…They’re funny.
What are you listening to these days?
Gary Numan. John Denver. Tonstartssbandht. Eric Copeland. Babes in Toyland. Clams Casino. I’ve been finding a bunch of cool shit by following producers and musicians in Fishtown on Spotify.
What was the first piece of artwork you bought/ do you buy a lot of artwork?
A small framed Gouache piece made by a young autistic woman in Stroudsburg. I buy work when I can, usually from young people who didn’t realize their work was for sale.
What themes and concepts does your work/ do your projects generally revolve around?
Resourcefulness, happiness, optimism, inter-dependency, getting out of your comfort zone, new utility, collaging familiar concepts in unorthodox ways, questioning culture, vulnerability, love, dignity, humility
What materials do you work with?
White board, thread, found materials…anything, whatever’s around me.
What are you currently working on?
Writing music for a PET show coming up and pet portraits.
What kind of creative patterns, routines or rituals do you have?
I do an hour of dance cardio in the mornings and then manifest for one minute.
How has the meaning of your work changed over time?
It’s less about vanity and more about creating vehicles for life experience.
What do you dislike about your work?
When I get full of myself and complacent.
Which creative medium would you love to pursue but haven’t yet?