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Q&A: Ian Johnston explores our relationship with the material world

Q&A: Ian Johnston explores our relationship with the material world

November 14, 2015 // by Jaime DeSimone

Ian Johnston is an architect-turned-sculptor based in Nelson, British Columbia, in Canada. He has exhibited his sculptural work internationally since the mid-1990s. Johnston studied architecture at Algonquin College and Carleton University in Ottawa and with the University of Toronto at Paris, France. Prior to opening his Nelson studio in 1996, he spent five years working at the Bauhaus Academy in post-Berlin Wall East Germany. He created his installation Fish Tales as part of the Project Atrium series.

Project Atrium Ian Johnston Fish Tales the Artist Views his Work
Image courtesy of Thomas Hager.

How would you describe your work to someone who's never seen it?

Lately I would describe my work as being large and experiential. I tend to use a lot of repetition and often work with found objects, but also I like to produce multiples in aid of developing large installation works. I like to work with textures and the sense of touch to engage my audience. 

What ideas do you explore in your work?

Most often my work explores the nature of our relationship with the material world. I think of my work as an object for facilitating and engaging audiences to explore, examine, and reinvent their relationship with the environment. My desire is to create archival documents, objects, and spatial experiences that engage, for opposite purposes, the same senses and desires that advance consumption.   

Where do you find inspiration?

Most often I am inspired by the mundane and the sensual experiences that I have on a daily basis. Repetition, texture, or the sense of touch at a very small scale and at a very large scale are inspiring to me.

What's your workspace like? When and where do you like to create your art?

My workspace tends to go back and forth between being very organized and very messy. My tables and space are very archaeological-piles of tools and materials get built up over the course of projects until there is no space left to work, and then a purge, cleaning, and reorganization of the studio occurs.

How do you prepare for a new project?

In a new project such as this one I tend to begin at the points that are most challenging for me. In this case, the technology of the installation was an unknown and beyond the scope of my experience. Because of this I spent a lot of time researching, learning, and exploring with the help of experts, friends, and the Internet.

Project Atrium Ian Johnston Members Preview 7
Image courtesy of Thomas Hager.
Project Atrium Ian Johnston Members Preview 4
Image courtesy of Thomas Hager.
Project Atrium Ian Johnston Members Preview 5
Image courtesy of Thomas Hager.

What attracted you to the Atrium Gallery?

The Atrium Gallery is interesting to me because of its architectural form and the way a viewer can approach a piece that is displayed there.

What is your next project?

My next project is a series of video installations that explore obsessive behaviors such as hoarding, obsessive checking, and cleaning.

How will exhibiting your work at MOCA Jacksonville affect your career?

Exhibiting my work at MOCA Jacksonville will have a profound effect on my career because it is my first solo show at a larger space in the United States. It is also one of the largest installations I have made to date, and the experience of presenting and creating such a work is a major stepping stone for me as an artist with a background in architecture.

Project Atrium Ian Johnston Members Preview 6
Image courtesy of Thomas Hager.

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