Inspired by her incredible biography-based videos available here, Katie Aske talks to the woman behind and in front of the camera, Whitney Johnston.
Katie Aske: The subjects in the ‘Some Girl Who Tells Stories’ video are clearly very personal. Why did you feel you should share your experience? Do you see the video as a form of catharsis?
Whitney Johnston: My use of the moving image medium was born out of a need to fill a void - to appease my frustration with the silence and delusions brought on by feelings of alienation and division within. My drive to self-examination became a need for catharsis, to purge histories, fantasies, and the like. When used as a mirror, the dark inner mechanisms of this medium have the ability to reflect the subject matter of the mind (both the ephemeral and the enduring) and that which needs to be participated in as an object.
KA: There is a dichotomy between memory and reality in your story. How has this uncertainty dictated the way you see life? And do you feel a sense of detachment when dealing with such a creative form of expression?
WJ: I approach my work as collections of materials - old and new, still and moving, my own and borrowed. They are constructed worlds of ambiguity - visceral images and sound informed by: fragmented and distorted memory, representation (not reconstruction) of the past, cinematic subversion, literary homage, a performance of girlhood, an articulation of struggle, moments of levity, a slap in the face, a flicker of life, betwixt and between vulnerability and control. It is this playing with fact and fiction where I can attempt to provoke viewers into participation. Identification, presumption, implication… projection - the claustrophobic invasion of the Self through sight, sound, and mind is now that of the viewer’s Other. More than just my own ‘self-help,’ I strive for the ability of my work to allow others to relate their own traumas and desires: I am not an anomaly, and these experiences are not wholly exclusive to me.
KA: Your ‘Studies in Silence: 1. The Pleasure Factor’ and ‘3. Domesticating Wild Things’ depict an uncertainty between pleasure and pain. What does pleasure mean to you? How do these videos reflect you as a person?
WJ: I was asked the same question about pleasure by Barbara DeGenevieve - she then tasked me with the assignment of showing her me pleasuring myself. Interpreting this in my own ‘creative’ way, this body of work began as an experiment in silence and its effect on perception - what happens when I take away the sound of my voice, the language I use? A mirror in, a mirror out, a circle, a spiral: in exploiting the sounds of nothingness, inanimate objects, and others speaking for me, my denial of voice became an exploration in relationships, sexuality, and the effects of the particular anatomical placement of a female’s primary source of sexual pleasure (I am the one most capable of pushing all the right buttons in The Pleasure Factor) and of childhood trauma on adulthood pleasures (Domesticating Wild Things).
KA: You interview yourself in ‘An Interview / An Introduction’. How would you define intimacy?
KA: If you could change one thing, what would it be?
WJ: Climate change.
KA: How do you interpret the word artist?
“One who is adept at something” - from the dictionary.
Words: Katie Aske