I am pleased to share the work and words of U.S. based artist and art facilitator, FAITH JOHNSON. Among many mediums, Johnson explores art and life as a performative hybrid. Her interest in building community and fostering inter-connectivity are but a few reasons that I find her work so compelling. I first witnessed Johnson perform at Lumen International Video & Performance Art Festival (2010), where she traced the outline of willing participants in a piece entitled, Collective Spirit. During that time her interactive performances explored the collective unconscious, a sentiment which undoubtedly carries through her present work.
Johnson portrays her relationship with performance art through a responsive text entitled "....and yet no action is too small to be felt by the universes in their entirety." This thoughtful and inquisitive text was generously prepared for Performance Is Alive. Please find Johnson's full response below.
"….AND YET NO ACTION IS TOO SMALL TO BE FELT BY THE UNIVERSES IN THEIR ENTIRETY" - an exploration of performance art by Faith Johnson
I came to performance art in 2005 during graduate school at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. Having only witnessed examples of this form of expression in books on the feminist art movement of the 70s, I thought I would be too scared to really do it. After taking classes with Marilyn Arsem and Mari Novotny Jones I realized performance would be my primary mode of artistic communication. The world of words could not hold space for the expansiveness and subtleties of my body’s voice and the world of images seemed too still and lacked immediacy. In performance, I could travel through so much internal matter—with the empathic or interactive experience allowing others to move with me.
My expressions dealt with suffering, healing and connection, soon transforming into a platform from which I would explore the invisible and “spiritual” realms. I began investigating human presence as it exists beyond the boundaries of physical form. I explored these invisible domains through breath, psychic communication, extra sensory perceptions, ceremony, and dreams. All of these investigations originated in the body but the “results” were often invisible. I was attempting to bring them back into a form or situation that could be experienced by my audience and by me both visually and energetically. Naturally, all art in some way makes the invisibility of an idea visible, yet I was interested in foregrounding the invisible element as much as possible; it would remain unseen, yet experienced as palpably as the seen.
My art sister, Leighton Collier Roux, explored many of these subjects in her own work and in collaboration with me. We created the Transference Project (2010-present) where we met psychically and recorded our experiences through writing and a live video feed both with and without an audience present. These sessions often showed evidence of psychic communication and threads of connection that defied conventional ideas of presence, time and space. The spiritual themes ran in tandem with our mutual interest in community connections. In my work We are What We Dream (2012) I facilitated the creation of a communal dream mapped by crystals tethered by a single string on a gallery wall. Audience members were asked to meditate with their crystal on the question: “If you could dream a new world into being what would it be like?” They would share their dream by writing it on the wall next to their crystal. The exercise became both an individual and communal vision of the changes people wished to see in the world. In Leighton Collier Roux’s series Comfort Objects (2006-2011) she created objects tailor-made for each participant. Offering comfort through texture, weight and sometimes smell and sound, each object was made with great care and given as a gift. Both of our works dealt with ideas of presence, community, healing and envisioning positive change.
It was during this time I began to take a special interest in actions of kindness as producing an energetic exchange between people. This was due to my exposure to the Star Teachings, ancient teachings held by North American peoples and recently shared with the “western world.” Their profound effect on my life and my work was immediately reflected in Offerings (2013)—one of several attempts to integrate the teachings into an art context. Here, I requested participants to bring gifts of flowers, which we then strung together, creating a wreath to be given as a gift by offering it to a random stranger. The focus of this piece was the energy itself created between people in the act of giving.
I became interested in finding other artists working along these lines, and I was pleased to find actions of kindness and generosity in the work of Jessica Gath. Connecting with her community through actions such as meal sharing or gift giving, she participates in direct, “everyday” actions crafted with great care and thoughtfulness in collaboration with her husband Christo Wood. Every detail is thought of in direct relation to the guests she is to serve. What makes this especially poignant is that Gath accomplishes this with humbleness and no expectation of return.
Not only did the Star Teachings guide me into the practice of kindness, they also helped me bridge the spiritual world with the workings of time, space and the universe at large. Suddenly I found myself no longer just pointing to things with my art, but I was experiencing the things themselves.
These discoveries gave me both great joy and an existential/identity crisis: Where did my spiritual practices end and my art begin? Since I was a child, I had always identified as an artist… and now that identity was rapidly expanding and changing at a rate I did not know how to maintain. The “life-is-art” scenario was threatening my understanding of context and ego, and I was experiencing the limits of art both as a category and vocation. What is the purpose of art to me now? To create change? To make a difference? What kind of difference? While still appreciating the power of art and metaphor, I was finding my daily practices more effective than my artworks.
The creative use of metaphor has the power to open many doors simultaneously, allowing individuals to share a common direction, and I am so grateful for art and artists who have held this particular space. In a world determined to stifle all connections to the flow of mystery, the artistic realm is perhaps the last area allowed to keep open the creative/spiritual connection to the universe. I think that many artists have held that sacred space in the “western world”—knowingly or unknowingly—out of an unconscious necessity to challenge our linear expressions of existence. What a beautiful and worthy function, but I still wonder if we will ever come upon a time when art expands beyond its own limits.
Where do ideas come from? How do they arrive in our mind’s eye? Do they come from an individual? Do they come from a collective unconsciousness? Do they connect to something spiritual? Ancient cultures of yesterday and today access the spiritual world through many “creative” modalities, which are integrated fully into the fabric of everyday life. In contemporary secular culture we have Pepsi, malls, movie stars, fences and fracking. Perhaps artists have held open one of the last sacred channels for the flow of a different kind of information that is unfixed and responsive in its essence. In the secular world, perhaps it is the artists who have helped prevent humanity from completely collapsing its relationship to the Great Beyond.
I discovered a deep resonance between my artistic investigations and the Star Teachings. It is a difficult and exciting place to be in when one has had their questions answered faster than they can ask more questions… so what now? Sometimes I feel held by my art community, other times it seems limiting and self-referential. And so here I am wondering: when full integration of the creative notion has been achieved (not that I have achieved this!) is the category/separation of art still necessary? As Charles Eisenstein puts it in his book, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible “when the story of separation becomes the story of inter-being,” how do we shift our identities in relation to this new positioning in which we move from a place of ego, I, me, to a place of we? A place of community in relationship to all of humanity, Earth, solar system, and the universe as we have yet to know it? In this moment I find my everyday actions to be more potent and landscape-altering than anything I have ever experienced through the mediation of art. When I open my eyes and ears I begin to experience my daily actions as having a profound effect on those around me for better or worse. We are all performers and students everyday. We offer and receive teachings in every moment. I was once told by a dear teacher “participation is ceremony.” How will we participate in the ceremony of life? Every action in any context art or otherwise affects everything around us in ways we cannot even begin to fathom… What direction are we going? What are we putting into the world?
And so in this stillness after all movement has exhausted itself…
What do I have to give in this moment?
I listen …
What is needed of me?
What is being asked of me?
SELECTED WORKS FROM FAITH JOHNSON
Images and text are courtesy of the artist.