Back to All Events

Brian J. Johnson | Mirror Moves

Artist Talk Saturday September 17th ~ 1:00p.m.

Featuring two video installations

Mean Time

Lorenzo, Isabella and the Pot of Basil


Mean Time – 2015 Synopsis: Mean Time considers a potential relationship between current processes of gentrification and colonialism, the relevance of time on these, and how the built environment might be read, sometimes literally, as a text. Corollary to this relationship is my positionality as an artist of privilege and how one, (in this case myself), might navigate collaborative processes with artists from other cultures and backgrounds. The work takes the form of a dialogue between two films playing in perfect sync.  These films were collaboratively produced in two rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods - situated in cities founded on colonized land and principles - brought forward into a time of post-colonial aspirations. It positions globalist capitalism in a dualistic role of at once enabling connection between artists from disparate cultures while simultaneously re-colonizing and subsequently alienating them from their environs.

Time, under these circumstances, is seen as subjective – it slips forward and back, but the means of power and control stay the same. Geographical space and its inherent durational facet are collapsed both by the techniques used by the artists, and also by the means of production. Specifically it is through the globalizing/homogenizing systems of communication and exchange that the creative partners of Mean Time were able to collaborate, trade and share ideas. Tellingly though, it was this same systematization of time, (via the use of marine chronometers in determining longitude), that enabled historical programs of colonization.

Two characters, spectral in nature, indigenous to the land portrayed but from an unspecified time frame, walk the neighborhoods of Woodstock in Cape Town and the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver. They appear in two separate video streams, mirrored both architecturally and in terms of the choreography that they realize. These two frames act to dislodge the single perspective inherent to traditional cinema and the power structures typical to its production and dissemination. Sound acts to support this fluid interpretation of the work as well. It is the audience’s movement through the space of exhibition that activates meaning – as the quadrophonic audio mix is ever shifting depending on their proximity within the space. Movement on screen becomes re-iterated in the place of exhibition – a kind of mapping of meaning occurs as the infinite perspectives on the work allow infinite interpretations.

Lorenzo, Isabella and the Pot of Basil – 2011 Synopsis: 1848 was the year that Marx published the Communist Manifesto – a political and philosophical text that took the dialectic for the basis of much of its logic. For Marx the “motive force” behind his dialectic was materiality – specifically man’s relationship to matter through both perception and modes of production. He grafted the empirical/rational world of materialism onto what had been for Hegel a question of metaphysics. The implications of this were revolutionary: Marx suggests that the role of philosophy should be less about interpreting the world and more about changing it.

Marx’s writing, along with ideas of liberalism and nationalism, resulted in a wave of revolutionary discontent across the continent of Europe in 1848. The year sometimes referred to as the Spring of Nations, saw nobles reacting against royal absolutism, middle and working classes demanding universal (male) suffrage, and the poor simply fighting to feed themselves. Alexis de Tocqueville described a time in which “society was cut in two: those who had nothing united in common envy, and those who had anything united in common terror.” Clearly this is a state of becoming we continue to find ourselves in today.

1848 was not only a time of political and social upheaval but also a cultural one. This was the year that the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was formed – a group of Victorian artists widely thought to represent the first unified avant-garde movement in art. The PRB rejected the staid conventions of the Renaissance as espoused by the Royal Academy in favour of direct observation of nature. Techniques of perspective and muted colour palettes were abandoned in favour of what they saw as the more honest forms of medieval art. Even in the Brotherhood’s own ideology we see the tension of paradox. On the one hand the artists strive to represent the “real” in nature with a rational, even scientific precision that owed more to Darwinian systems of classification than any Romantic notions of creative genius. At the same time they draw on mythic and historical subject matter full of yearning for a simpler time of faith and truthfulness. 

It has been suggested that this conflict between the seen (the real of everyday experience) and the seeable (the fantastic recreation of fictional or historical events) that is so typical of their work presages the cinema. Strict realists of the time criticized the work of the Pre-Raphaelites as “picture-dramas” – more theatre than painting. For me this is far from a weakness – in fact it is an inspiration. The accumulated thematic tension in their paintings ultimately leaves the impression of formal transformation – which resonates with me particularly as my own work is so often situated between the worlds of visual art and cinema.

Brian Johnson Biography: Director, cinematographer and visual artist Brian’s work spans many genres and disciplines. He is an avid and enthusiastic collaborator as well as an independent artist creating works that tend to operate within the continuum of cinema.

Brian’s cinematography credits include The Killing for Netflix and AMC and You Me Her for DirectTV and E-one. His most recent film, Inheritor Recordings, has been receiving recognition and awards at film festivals such as the San Francisco Dance Film Festival. In 2010 Brian directed an hour-long anthology on BC artists for Knowledge Network called cArtographies - a work that re-framed the potential of biographical documentary – pushing the genre towards performance/abstraction through collaborative exploration of individual artist’s work. He has exhibited at festivals such as TIFF and the Clairmont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival. He has won two Golden Sheaf awards, two Leos and has been nominated for a Gemini for his work on such feature films as On the Corner and Camera Shy.

In his own practice, Brian’s work challenges the traditional parameters of filmmaking by inviting immediacy and improvisation into the cinematic experience. He is currently in development with Screen Siren Pictures on the feature film Caught on the Inside – a story about troubled youth living in a Pacific Northwest coastal/industrial town. He divides his time between Vancouver and Toronto.