Upfront Gallery & Lobby

Kelly Johnston

We Decided We Belong
July 10 – August 29
Upfront Gallery

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Kelly Johnston installing We Decided We Belong at Artspace

We Decided We Belong will deconstruct and integrate material objects and visual imagery, centering feminine and queer ways of seeing and making. As a queer feminist artist, Johnston is constantly navigating how patriarchal expectations are placed on her body inside and outside the domestic sphere. These pieces investigate traditional modes of women’s labor, in terms of their unique material and performative involvements, primarily through fiberwork and cooking. 

Specifically, Johnston uses fiber in much of her work as a way to understand her historical identity; her maternal grandmother supported her family for decades as a seamstress in Los Angeles, CA between the 1960s-1980s. Johnston seeks to reveal the ambivalence of these forms by highlighting both their aesthetic possibilities and hidden violences.

Women often take on the task of cooking in many cultures: cooking is cultural, communal, personal, it often impacts our relationships and our views about the world. Johnston is interested in the performative aspects of cooking, yet subverting the process by producing visceral objects, in the form of bioplastic. Her recipe incorporates cornstarch, vinegar, water and glycerin which she boils in a pot on the stove. This produces a translucent material that can be impregnated with different objects. Most commonly, Johnston incorporates identity objects which she views as hair, teeth, and other personal effects. Once the sheets cure, which can take up to a week, the identity objects are forced into stasis, moments viewers must contend with when looking at her work.

We Decided We Belong explores the connections in both fiberwork and cooking: a relationship exists between the materiality of the production, the labor required, and the social location of a feminized, woman’s body as the labor producer. An aesthetic corruption of domestic work represents the historical repression of Johnston’s body, which has been censored by cultural and familial expectations of body image and sexual orientation.

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Kelly Johnston installing We Decided We Belong

Born in Washington DC in 1991, Kelly R Johnston graduated from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas in 2015 with a BA in Anthropology and a BA in Studio Art. She currently lives in Chapel Hill, NC and exhibits internationally and extensively in the US south. Notably, Johnston received the 2020 Durham Arts Council Emerging Artist Grant, selected for the 2019 Emerging Regional Artist Residency at Artspace in Raleigh, opened a solo exhibition at the Durham Art Guild SunTrust Gallery and participated in residencies at the Vermont Studio Center, Torpedo Factory Art Center and the Hambidge Center. Not Random Art, the contemporary art magazine based in London published an interview with Johnston 2017. Johnston’s work explores women’s labor at the intersection of production and materiality. She examines these tensions by utilizing natural materials and identity objects (hair, teeth or other personal effects), incorporating mixed-media processes to create visceral sculptures and installations.

Site-Specific Installation:
Tedd Anderson

Davie St Entrance

Tedd Anderson’s mural features the iconic “dry space” characters for which the artist is known set in a landscape filled with swirling, topographic lines, jagged edges, and meditative objects and shapes. A banner with a poem scrawled on its surface runs through the piece, bringing the imagery into a cohesive whole.