18 January 2009


Last night I attended a performance by artist Dominic Johnson at Queen Mary University's Great Hall in Mile End, London.

We had major bus issues so skidded in the door about halfway through the piece. I was startled (after an intense 30 minutes trying to negotiate London buses, which seemed to be on strike) to be met by hundreds of people standing cult-like before a stage, upon which Johnson - dressed only in underpants and completely whited-up - was swinging long silver strands of beads from his forehead. The audience was completely silent, entranced, I think no-one breathed. I joined this strangely comforting crowd; all eyes on Johnson, all ears on the beautiful Glass-esque music, all minds on something very personal, I suspect.

Johnson soon began the process of removing each strand, slowly, dramatically. I soon realised they were attached to his forehead with fishhooks. By the time the last strand is removed, dropped gracefully and resoundingly to the floor, there is a steady stream of blood. The red stands out on the white of his skin.

He begins to take handfuls of red dust from a pot and blow it into the audience. This creates large but fleeting and delicate red clouds in the dark hall. With this, he conjures notions of the dispersion of self - of ashes, perhaps - of sadness and tragedy and thus necessarily of beauty and magic. A friend told me she wanted nothing more than to be immersed in that red cloud of dust.

Johnson next completely coats his forearms in red glitter and pours the pot of it over his face and chest. It sticks to the blood, giving a sparkly theatricality, a surreality, even a superfluity, to the substance which is so completely untheatrical, so real, so entirely and basely necessary.

The music stops and we instead hear a drone, increasing in volume, as red lights shine into our faces, increasing in intensity. A chain is pulled for ages, the noise of it resounding like the strands of beads, yet heavier. Finally Johnson falls to the ground face first with a bang, his legs are slowly lifted and eventually he is hanging by his ankles from the high ceiling, like a bungee jumper without elastic.

The red lights and the drone continue, the arms are still glittered, but there is something uncanny about this image, something which is not immediately identified but is felt instantly. This man, singular yet omnipresent, hanging theatrically and consciously, indeed, but also innocently and generously, is giving us a signal with his arms: they defy gravity. They are placed mid-air, by his side as if he were standing upright.

The subtlety of this signal is almost painful in it's beauty, a most generous gift to give a hundred people. This gentle gesture seems to say so much, so simply, so concisely. It seems to calm and to reassure. It is a resistance against preconceived notions of what is expected - in the very broadest and every sense - of man. It is truly a revelation. It is truly powerful.

For more information on Dominic Johnson visit dominicjohnson.blogspot.com. Image courtesy of newmoves.co.uk.


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