5 November 2016 - 31 january 2017
Ever since his debut in New York, towards the second half of the 90s, happenings, performances and theatre have played a central role in Tom Johnson’s artistic production, gesture being one of the key elements running through entire poetic oeuvre. Combined with his expressive use of sophisticated language Tom Johnson takes us to the borderlands between biography and self-analysis. Here words are gradually internalized before re-emerging as a sort of extension of the physical body. In all of his performances the artist reconstructs his own experiential horizon in an attempt to shed light on the secret relationship between words and things, between sense and meaning. Here, we are exposed to that kind of wonder communicated by his blunders and his choreographic projects, a short step away from nonsense and the raging differences between immobility and gestural climax. His use of paradox and oxymoron allows him to grasp the metaphysical core of discourse. Beginning with the surface of things and words, he distils them down to their essence, squashing the role of appearance. Tom Johnson brings a lot of psychoanalytic wisdom onto the stage as well as a marked interest in the corporeal and terrestrial dimension of relations between individuals. It is no coincidence that one of his first performances, that came to life in the gallery a few years ago (in What a Black Man Feels Like, 2005) was about skin and the intimate contact between skins, before touching on delicate questions such as race and our physical perception of what is different.
This new performance, staged for the first time as part of the Notte delle Arti Contemporanee, boldly oversteps the threshold determined by modesty. As with the universe, whose limits thwart our ambitions to go beyond its boundaries, so to do mysterious limits circumscribe the realm of ideas, making it hard if not impossible to explore certain themes. Bourgeois ethics in the age of modernity have traced limits around discourse based on the idea of taste (good and bad taste), highlighting precise syntactic and metaphysical boundaries. During his performance, Tom Johnson trespasses into the region beyond these limits to address one of the great social taboos of our times: wealth.
Much talk defines money as the lowest common denominator in the quantitative universe we are forced to live in. Yet, by being so immersed in what is measurable - and what exists simply because it is measurable - we intentionally gloss over the consequences, forgetting that while measuring, differences arise, and these differences inevitably lead to inequality. And any point of view that broadens social divides, brushing aside politics, economics and ideology, is inevitably comes down to taste - bad taste in many cases.
How we behave when in the company of a wealthy person therefore inspires a complex flood of contrasting impulses, becoming also a perfect testing ground to observe our involuntary behaviour. With words and gestures Tom Johnson performs exactly this.
Un piano nobile per un uomo alto has it roots as much in the theatre of words as in the tradition of tribunician ranting: not by chance, the second part of the performance is based on a famous piece of writing by the philosopher, painter and orator William Hazlitt (1778-1830), who, thanks to one torrential and virtuoso use of language (considered to be a masterpiece of the English language), talks about the people, the rule of law and social inequality. A prime example of how a masterful exercise in rhetoric together with profound analysis are able to give a name to the unutterable, reconnecting us with the centre of things and the more subtle relations at work in the social domain.
Many thanks to Aldo Rendina (second voice), Sandra Tibaldi, Rebecca Cafasso, Velio Josta, Fabio Pante, Marco Pesce, Amedeo D’Amico, Antonio De Masi, Mauro Migliore, Alessia Pedio, Patrizia Corte, Anita Esposito, Davide Cervella, Celine Schlotter, Giulia Miniati, Simona Angelini, Anja Radulovic, Sharon Modone, Dario Beatovich, Bianca Maria Bordone, Carla Vivalda, Morgana Mina, Cristina Pellegrino, Sara Piva, Libero Ruglio, Veronica Cicirello, Elisabetta Della Vella, Laura D’Angelo, Arisa, Maria Elena, Giada.
Tom Johnson (New York, 1966) is an American artist who has been living in Italy for many years. His work spans performance, sculpture and painting, often gaining expression in form of chamber theatre. This is his third exhibition at the Guido Costa Projects gallery.