Broken Boxes - Interview with Ursula A. Johnson (EP#44)

Broken Boxes Podcast is proud to share the first artist conversation in a series of interviews featuring participants from the socially engaged project #callresponse.  

In this episode we get into conversation with Ursula A. Johnson, a performance and installation artist of Mi’kmaw descent. Ursula breaks down what her practice consists of, her inspirations for becoming an artist, the concepts her work explores and description of recent works. Ursula also speaks on her endurance performance work for The Land Sings and her reflections on the #callresponse project. 


In the topics and themes I examine through performance, sculpture and or installation and sometimes all of the above; I aim at creating a space where the viewer is confronted with thought provoking visuals, sounds and scents. Often challenging the viewer to investigate their own Identity, as well as examining the relationship that their ancestry and cultural practices relates to that of mine.
— Ursula A. Johnson

More About The Artist:

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Ursula A. Johnson is a performance and installation artist of Mi’kmaw descent. People who attend her performances are often surprised to find themselves no longer spectators, but actors in a social situation. Instead of the private, contemplative response we usually expect from the encounter with a work of art, we become participants in collective interpretations and collaborative actions. 

Ursula Johnson holds a BFA (2006) from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, where she studied photography, drawing and textiles. She also studied Theatre at Cape Breton University.  Johnson descends from a long line of Mi’kmaw Artists, including her late Great-Grandmother, Caroline Gould, from whom she learned basket making.  In 2010 she curated Klokowej: A 30-Year Retrospective commemorating Gould’s contribution to the evolution of Mi’kmaw basketry.

Ursula Johnson’s approach to basketry is typical of her transformational practice.  Rather than simply imitating traditional Mi’kmaw basket forms she uses traditional techniques to build subtly non-functional forms—objects that are clearly traditionally based yet raised to a metaphorical level of signification, as works of art. Several of her performances, including Elmiet (2010) and Basket Weaving (2011) incorporate basketry as a key element.

Her background in theatre is evident in her public performances. People who attend Johnson’s performances are often surprised to find themselves no longer spectators, but actors in a social situation.  Instead of the private, contemplative response we usually expect from the encounter with a work of art, we become participants in collective interpretations and collaborative actions.


More About #callresponse

The project is led by Tarah Hogue (French/Dutch/Métis), Maria Hupfield (Anishinaabe) and Tania Willard (Secwepemc) and features five lead artists working in the following locations: Maria Hupfield in Toronto ON, Montreal PQ, New York NY, Tania Willard in Secwepemc Territory BC and invited artists Christi Belcourt (Michif) on the North Shore of Lake Huron ON, Ursula Johnson (Mi'kmaw) in Toronto ON, Vancouver BC, and Laakkuluk Williamson­Bathory (Inuk) in Iqaluit NU.

Stay connected with the #callresponse project: