Carl Scrase



From an e-mail exchange between Carl Scrase and Janeil Engelstad, Septmeber 2011


JE: Reading your overview and looking at your website, I am interested to know about the transition in your practice. Could you go into more detail about, or provide a background for, your decision to reform your personal creative practice into S.E.R.I.? I am interested in learning about what influenced or inspired this transition.


CS: I have high expectations of myself. For some reason when I was fifteen, I decided that it was my role to change the world. It weird to say that, but it is true. I just started having this feeling that one day I would have something really important to share. That’s why I started devoting myself to ‘art’. So I could build a platform to say it from.


Fast-forward ten years. I had developed a style; I was gaining a lot of success for a young artist -- lots of shows, prizes, awards, adulation, etc. I was playing the game well, building a name for myself as a young visual artist to watch.


Then I got selected to go on this thing called Splendid and it blew apart my world, in a good way. Splendid is an amazing three week-long arts lab, held in conjunction with Splendour in the Grass. For the first time in my life, I was hanging out with all these different creative types - dancers, performers, architects – a really amazing bunch. We were provoked by some of Australia’s, and indeed, the world’s most experienced mentors. We were actively pushed to explore beyond the creative frameworks that we had built up for ourselves.


The lab made me remember that my ultimate goal was not to become an artist; it was to change the world. There are a lot of people that say art can change the world, but there are probably more that think it can’t. I decided to remove myself from that conversation, and just get down to the business of trying to create systemic change; the first step was setting up the Social Engineering Research Initiative (S.E.R.I.). If people want to call it art, I am fine with that, I just don’t see why I would.


JE: So, you are not calling your professional or an art practitioner. Does what you do it have a name or a label? How do you or your audience or the participants identify it? Or does it even need to be identified? Identification helps to connect to an audience, develop methodologies, build, or connect to systems for distribution, and gain capital support for your activities. But these might be concerns that are irrelevant to your work?    


CS: I am calling myself a ‘social engineer’, which I see as building upon the Beuysian concept of ‘social sculpture’. I saw the word engineer as a more potent term than sculpture, more able to create real solutions and claim creativity it’s justified place in the world of semantics as a potent agitator for social change. But, to be honest, I am already feeling a little boxed in by the term. I have a feeling all semantics are becoming less stable.


I am very transient, and that does make it hard to follow, develop methodologies, distribute, etc. I am not an artisan; I am more interested in making artifacts. I see galleries as museums, places that hold signifiers to real world actions, thoughts, and stories that are significant.