The Many Fictions of Self

In a billboard on a wall outside Toronto’s Mercer Union in 2015, interdisciplinary Kahnawake-born artist Walter Scott installed a simple six-frame narrative showing Wendy, his art world darling, involved in transforming herself from ordinary blonde to raven-haired seductress. In the first frame she thinks that she is “evolving tentacles,” which she regards as “branches that held many different fictions of me at once.” Creation and creator overlap. Scott shares her multi-limbed identity; he is a comic artist, writer, performer, drawer and sculptor. He has been his own kind of shape-shifter, having lived in Montreal and Vancouver and currently an MFA candidate at the University of Guelph, where he is finding new ways to extend both his artmaking and the fictional production of his beleaguered alter ego. While nothing has changed in Wendy’s universe in the five years since he introduced her in a zine, much is different in his. “I’m teaching younger people now and in a certain way I realize that Wendy is too old to be Wendy.” He has published two books with Koyama Press, Wendy, 2014, and Wendy’s Revenge, 2016, and the third is in the planning stage. “I think maybe she will wake up with some wrinkles and she could get a little fat. Maybe she’ll cut her hair.”

Walter Scott, Wendy’s Revenge, 2016, Koyama Press. All images courtesy of the artist

The changes his own work is undergoing centre on his relationship to figuration. As a comic artist his immediate instinct is always to draw a figure, and that tendency has now worked itself into his approach to making sculpture. Scott’s sculptures have tended to move towards figuration and they often operate within a theatrical frame. From that perspective he can now see a connection between his comic art and his studio production. “Wendy feels like performance because I get to write and act through a character and, as a result, it has elements of me. I think my sculpture, especially the work that looks like props or figures, is a way to use a theatrical or performance vernacular to position the sculptures as a stand-in for myself. They become other alter egos or avatars.”

Scott has a mixed media collage from 2014 called The Real Me, and the title playfully announces that he is on the lookout for aspects of himself in his various kinds of work. “I think I’ve stopped trying to get away from self-portraiture and have decided to just embrace the fact that there’s a little bit of myself, figuratively, in everything.” His work in all mediums embodies an indirect form of critical confession, the sort of self-psychologizing that characterizes the writing of Chris Kraus and Kathy Acker. He has consistently mixed his self-awareness with a healthy degree of critical self-reflection.

In 2013 he exhibited a sculpture made from wood, acrylic, fabric, rope and vinyl that he called It Might Also Choose to Unmake Itself. The sculpture looks like a sentinel, a kind of abstract figure with a painted brown, orange and white body, and a black vinyl arm and hand with long fingers, which clutch a piece of laminated, unpainted wood. You have a feeling that the arm could easily lift up the wood and use it as a club bent on self-destruction. Scott sees his title as an exploration of the ambivalence he felt about moving into sculpture. “It asks what is the purpose of an art object and how does it facilitate our shared fiction of ourselves as viewers and artists.” The stories continue in the tentacle-laden world that Walter Scott, and his various selves, is telling us about.❚

Volume 36, Number 2: Photography & Film

This article originally appeared in Border Crossings #142, published May 2017.

Border Crossings looks at contemporary art with interest, passion and thoroughness. Subscribe to Border Crossings today for as little as $24/year.