Waking Up at Cal Anderson: a Q&A with artist Amy Johnson

Johnson works with new materials to bring light to her sculpture

Throughout the past week, six artists have been installing art at Cal Anderson Park in Capitol Hill for MadArt in the Park, sponsored by Seattle Parks and Recreation, 4 Culture and MadArt. Dedicated to giving local emerging artists an opportunity to create art in unexpected places, MadArt chose six Seattle artists out of a pool of 250 candidates for this exhibit that will run through September 12th.

Out of the small group of artists, there are five men and one woman. Her name is Amy Johnson.

Around six months ago, Johnson was contacted by Bryan Ohno, MadArt’s artist liaison, and work began on “Wake”, her contribution to the outdoor exhibit. Like much of Johnson’s work, “Wake” explores the relationship and tension between fantasy and reality, invoking a call to discover which is which. This time, Johnson approaches the theme with a fenced-in four post bed of thorns resting on golden branches, complete with metallic pillows studded with blue LED lights.

Tell me a little bit about the process of creating “Wake”.
For a while I’ve been thinking about objects that emote this physical pricked feeling. That idea evolved from narratives and fairy tales, which is where a lot of my objects and visuals come from. The bed of thorns represents a more dangerous, severe atmosphere while the two pillows offer a seductive and comforting element. I started there. I’ve also been making fences to represent physical as well as emotional boundaries, and how people interact differently, and so I’ve combined that element also. I tend to make lots of different objects, and then over a period of time they evolve to work with each other.

How is this piece distinctly different from your other pieces?
One thing technically is that I’ve started to use light, which I’ve never used before. The pillows will illuminate at night and glow. Before I just used the natural light, and that kind of creates a glow, but this time I really wanted to highlight that. So I’ve used an LED component that’s running off of the battery. The other major difference this is my first outdoor project so there are other things to consider in terms of security, materials and what can I use that’s not going to disintegrate or fall apart when it rains.

Amy Johnson's Bed of Thorns
Johnson's glowing pillows nestled in the bed of thorns.

Accessibility is a major bonus to having outdoor installations. What are some others?
The piece exists in my mind in an outdoor environment. That relationship is pretty great, and if it were in a gallery space or a museum it would be this outdoor environment but in an industrial space, where as this is synced. It seems like maybe the common thread for all six pieces is that these works function better in their natural environment, where they needed to be created rather than contrived in a commercial space.

Read more after the jump.

What was it like working with these new materials?

 You know what, it’s great. I love using different materials and figuring out the technical aspects of it. I never let not knowing how to use something keep me from working with it. I like figuring out all this electrical stuff even though it can be a little daunting. I like that constant challenge: I’m not somebody who can just use one material and that’s it. I can’t. I get bored.

Why do you think that you were chosen to join this group of artists?
I’m not sure. I’m glad that I was! I still don’t ever know what draws people to my work or why I’m selected for anything. You put a lot of energy into proposing and talking and coming up with different ideas and different scenarios of things that you can do, and then you get selected or you don’t get selected. And then you carry on.

What was your favorite part about creating “Wake”?
Just watching it evolve. It went through several stages of what it would be and what it would look like, and I think that’s still going to happen through the installation. I tend to change things as I’m installing because the environment plays a large part in the work. I did really like figuring out the electrical component and the technical issues. Using elements from different thought processes or different bodies of work was also exciting. In my studio, I have lots of things going on and they’re getting pulled from different directions, so having this synthesis of objects is pretty exciting.

So are you technically gifted?
Oh I don’t know about that. The words “gifted” and “talented” I think get used so much in the art world. I think a lot of being an artist is that you have to really want to do it, and you really have to work. So much of it is just working hard...wait, you mean like the electrical kind [of”technically”]?

Oh, I don’t know. I don’t know anything about it. I was in completely foreign territory, but I loved figuring it out, going to different places and saying, this is what I need and how do I make this work. Then I figure it out with whoever’s helping me.

And that translates into being an artist as well, right, in approaching new projects?
Yeah, you have to be able to figure stuff out, you have to be able to problem solve efficiently.

Do you see any other outdoor installations in your future after this?
I’m not sure! Hopefully! I want to see how this goes, see what happens and see what the response is.

Read more about Amy and “Wake”, which you can see at Cal Anderson Park through September 12th.

Amy Johnson's sculpture Wake

Photos by Amy Johnson