Featuring newly commissioned video installations, this landmark solo exhibition by Northern Irish artist Sandra Johnston grew out of conversations surrounding her time spent in Dublin during the late 1990s. As an emerging artist, Johnston was resident at both IMMA and Arthouse and participated in Project Arts Centre
s OFF Site programme curated by Valerie Connor between 1998 and 1999. During that time, her performance work Reserved took place over two consecutive nights on the rooftop of the former Ormond Hotel with a video installation shown inside the building containing edited footage of her 24-hour performance.
Consisting of two main parts, Wait it Out negotiates personal and historical narratives in relation to the reverberation of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. The work reflects upon the indeterminate early days of the peace process and the climate of unease which motivated Johnston to relocate to Dublin in 1997. The central installation, That Apart, is an edit of a five-day consecutive filming process (in the gallery at Project and at IMMA) with Scottish moving-image artist Richard Ashrowan. During these sessions Ashrowan recorded a series of singular actions and gestures, a flow of transitional moves that Johnston describes as an autopsy of performative gestures extracted from various performance improvisations that have occurred in live contexts across her 27 years of practice.
Negotiating physical gestures that subvert or repurpose the use of things, Johnston utilises domestic objects as well as objects that speak more explicitly to the urban terrorism of Northern Ireland. This sparse and precise use of gestures furthers Johnstons ongoing interest in art processes as a means to test provisionality and attrition, using objects in ways that speak to their common usage, while also bringing forward introspective moments that actuate hidden languages of memory.
The collaboration with Ashrowan involved responsiveness, trust and patience in the creation of footage that is neither a straightforward performance document, nor a narrated film work. It is instead an intermediary experiment where volatility and stasis contribute to the fragmentation of the working process, forcing it away from clean, conceptual resolution. The filming reveals a number of idiosyncrasies in relation to its own process. The way in which the camera often fails to capture the physicality of movements which would have been evident to audiences in a live context, is contrasted by its ability to lend movements on a micro scale a heightened visuality. These contradictions between filmmaking and performance art were purposefully focused on and worked through within the filming and editing process.
Overprint is a constellation of videos hosted in the gallerys black box. It includes edited documentation of one of Johnstons street performances from Belfast during the 2000s alongside two alternating projections of UTV news clips that chart the rise and decline of The Peace People, a movement that began in 1976 as a protest against the ongoing violence in Northern Ireland. The performance video includes extracts from an interview Johnston conducted in 2004 with Peace People leader Mairead Corrigan Maguire as part of her continuing research enquiry into reconciliation processes. This video echoes, and is interrupted by, a 1976 interview between Corrigan Maguire and political commentator David Dunseith, broadcast on the occasion of Corrigan Maguires receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize. The interlinking of the various footages necessitates a revision and nuanced understanding of the significance of this woman-led organisation and its education of people across the country in non-violent methods and a radically different approach to conflict resolution.
Wait it Out draws together these new video works that have evolved from the artists own archive of performative actions. They are positioned here in ways that offer a potential for cross-referencing historical events that have significantly shaped the standpoints conveyed within the actions. Sandra Johnston and Richard Ashrowan renewed their collaborative experimentation, which began in 2009 and also involves performance artist Alastair MacLennan. Previously, they have developed two film projects in the Scottish Borders region near Hawick. The first resulted in Alchemist (2010, 30 mins, 2 channels) and a second experimental film is currently in production.
Sandra Johnston is a visual artist from Northern Ireland active internationally since 1992, working predominantly in the areas of site-responsive performance and installation. Her actions have often involved exploring the aftermath of trauma through developing acts of commemoration as forms of testimony and empathetic encounter. She has held various teaching and research posts and currently is Senior Lecturer in Fine Art at the Northumbria University, Newcastle. Her practice-based investigation into issues of trauma of place were extended as a PhD project entitled Beyond Reasonable Doubt: An Investigation of Doubt, Risk and Testimony Through Performance Art Processes in Relation to Systems of Legal Justice published in 2013 with LIT (Berlin). She has been a co-founder and committee member of various artist-run collectives in Belfast, notably: CATALYST ARTS and BBEYOND. Some of her most recent performances and projects include: Here-to-Here, Notwithstanding, Fierce Festival 2019, Birmingham, UK (upcoming); The Biennial of Curitiba and p.ARTE Festival 2019 - Curitiba, Southern Brazil (upcoming); Asiatopia 20th Performance Festival, Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, Bangkok, Thailand (2018), Live Action 13, Gothenburg, Sweden (2018), Minimal, Poor, Present, as part of Glasgow International 2018, Scotland (2018), We Shout and Shout, But No One Listens: Art from Conflict Zones, CAMP/ Center for Art on Migration Politics, Copenhagen, Denmark (2017), Rise Up: Ending Racism, Poverty and War, part of Freedom City Newcastle upon Tyne, England (2017), Future Histories, Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin (2016), Border Crossings, SASA Gallery, Adelaide, Australia (2016), Lay Allude, with Alastair MacLennan, Bòlit Museum, Girona, Spain (2016), Tangible Live, EMMA Espoo Museum of Modern Art, Finland (2015), VIVA! Art Action, Montréal, Canada (2015).