Contemporary Spotlight: Erin Johnson & Ken Ueno

Jepson Center October 5, 2018–March 3, 2019

Telfair Museums presents Contemporary Spotlight exhibitions with artists Erin Johnson (American, b. 1985) and Ken Ueno (American, b. 1970). Both are creating new works that address questions and themes specific to our region, considering what it means to tell the history of a place.

Erin Johnson (American, b. 1985), digital stills from Heavy Water, 2018, digital video, © Erin Johnson Erin Johnson (American, b. 1985), digital stills from Heavy Water, 2018, digital video, © Erin Johnson


Erin Johnson’s solo exhibition Heavy Water is a newly-commissioned body of work that investigates the social and political implications of South Carolina’s Savannah River Site (SRS), a U.S. nuclear weapons program facility and National Environmental Research Park. Johnson’s video and sound installation explores the relationship between SRS – a key disposition site for weapons-grade plutonium – and the free-ranging, wild dogs that live on the 310 square mile complex. Some ecologists suggest the dogs may be ancestors of the first dogs that entered North America more than 8,000 years ago, and in Johnson’s work this epic ancient timeline converges with another – that of the precarious, untenable future of nuclear weapons and radioactive waste.

Ken Ueno will compose, direct, and inhabit a series of site-specific performances entitled Ghost Vault Triptych. Ueno is interested in composing what he calls both person-specific and site-specific music—intended for, and inspired by, one specific person, or narrative, or prompt. Live performances at several public sites will take place in October 2018.

Telfair Museums’ Contemporary Spotlight series is an artist-centered exhibition platform that highlights contemporary art by nationally-emerging artists through small exhibitions and featured loans. These projects are organized and curated in-house and are typically commission-based. Artists are encouraged to respond to place and to reflect the issues of our time. Through these smaller-scale projects, which are often an artist’s first introduction to museum audiences, Telfair Museums broadens the museum’s contemporary art program by supporting nationally-emerging artistic voices as a means to foster dialogue.


About the artists:

Erin Johnson’s work—comprised primarily of video and sound installation—explores the blurred lines between rehearsal and performance; real and imagined landscapes and borders; and perception, memory, and interpretation. She utilizes both fictional and historical narratives to examine effects of queer cross-species relations, communication technology, and the act of searching. She holds an MFA and Certificate in New Media from U.C. Berkeley and is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of Digital Media and Digital and Computational Studies at Bowdoin College.

Winner of the 2006–2007 Rome Prize and the 2010–2011 Berlin Prize, Ken Ueno’s music has been performed at such venues as Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MusikTriennale Köln Festival, the Muziekgebouw, Ars Musica, Warsaw Autumn, Other Minds, the Hopkins Center, Spoleto USA, Steim, and the Norfolk Music Festival. In recent years, Ueno has been collaborating with visual artists, architects, and video artists to create unique cross-disciplinary art works. Ken is currently an Associate Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University and an M.M.A. from the Yale School of Music. His bio appears in The Grove Dictionary of American Music.


Exhibition Programming:

Artist-Led Town Hall, in partnership with For Freedoms 50 State Initiative

Artist talk by Erin Johnson, along with performance of Ken Ueno’s Jepson Satellite
Sunday, October 7  |  2–4pm
Jepson Center and Cluskey Embankment Stores
Free and Open to the public

Join exhibiting artists Erin Johnson and Ken Ueno in an artist talk, performance, and walking conversation about their individual and collaborative work, particularly how place and histories drive their methodologies. Erin Johnson will talk about her exhibition Heavy Water in the Jepson Center and specifically discuss how her research into cold war politics and experiences gaining access to government research sites have informed her work over the past few years. The artist talk will be followed by a performance by Ken Ueno in the Jepson Center atrium titled Jepson Satellite.

As a group, we will then walk from the Jepson Center to the Cluskey Embankment Stores built in 1842, adjacent to City Hall on the east along the Drayton Street Ramp. Along the walk, artists Johnson and Ueno will lead a public dialogue on how their art practices utilize, capitalize on, and challenge the stories people tell about a place, and continue to retell, through various methods. Once at the Cluskey “Vaults”, Ueno will discuss how he activates architecture as instruments through site-specific compositions.

This For Freedoms Artist-Led Town Hall conversation will be driven by Fear and Speech, particularly with regards to artistic and creative freedoms and public discourse.

Note: If the public response is large, Telfair Museums will host the artist talk in the Jepson Center Neises Auditorium, instead of the Levitt and Varnedoe Galleries. This event is free and open to the public. If you plan to walk to the Cluskey Embankment Stores, the walk is approximately ½ mile and involves stairs. There is no seating at the Cluskey Embankment Stores. The entire program will last 2 hours.

About Ken Ueno’s Jepson Satellite:

In the Jepson Center, Ueno will activate the architecture of the atrium through a site-specific extended vocal performance with six snare drums and a megaphone. Ueno has developed a technique whereby he controls the frequency (pitch) that emits from his megaphone by changing the shape of his palette. By controlling the pitch of the feedback, Ueno can control the sympathetic activation of snare rattles, even while he is physically yards apart from a snare drum. In this way, the cadre of six snare drums that will surround Ueno in the atrium (visually, a kind of snare drum Stonehenge) will mark a ritual space, a middle ground between Ueno and the larger architecture of the Jepson Center. The sympathetic vibration of the snare drums makes palpable the invisible vibration of air molecules, like ghostly traces.
Program time: Approximately 20 minutes


About For Freedoms and the 2018 50 State Initiative:

“We believe that artists, and art, play an important role in galvanizing our society to do better. We are a hub for other artists, arts institutions, and activists who want to be more civically engaged.”

Founded by Hank Willis Thomas and Eric Gottesman, For Freedoms Federation encourages new forms of critical discourse. The medium is American democracy, and their mission is to support the effort to reshape it into a more transparent and representative form. For Freedoms produces exhibitions, installations, public programs, and billboard campaigns to advocate for equality, dialogue, and civic participation. Inspired by American artist Norman Rockwell’s paintings of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms (1941)—freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear—For Freedoms Federation uses art to encourage and deepen public explorations of freedom in the 21st century.

The For Freedoms 50 State Initiative occurs during September–November 2018, and involves public programming, art exhibitions and public events with partner institutions and organizations across the country to encourage broad participation in civic discourse and, through lifting up a multiplicity of voices, to spark a national dialogue about art, education, advertising and politics.


Ken Ueno’s Ghost Vault Triptych public performances

October 6 and 7  |  8–9pm
Cluskey Embankment Stores
Program time: 1 hour
Free and open to the public

“As a vocalist specializing in extended techniques, I use my body is also a research space to cultivate new sounds… I am trying to program my installation music for specific spaces and with a temporality that will engage audiences in more-varied ways. The temporality of engagement is the window of opportunity to have an impact on the audience. If the impact is deep enough, then the temporality of engagement can continue beyond the window of time the artwork is perceived. Subtones and multiphonics and breath, the aspects of my vocal practice, defy orientation toward a conventional musical language.”

Ken Ueno will compose, direct, and inhabit two site-specific performances entitled Ghost Vault Triptych from October 6–7, 2018. Ueno is interested in composing what he calls both person-specific and site-specific music—intended for, and inspired by, one specific person, or narrative, or prompt.

At the Cluskey Embankment Stores, Ueno will utilize the hollow vaulted spaces as resonant chambers, effectively turning the Embankment Stores into a large instrument. The resulting performance will bring forth a collaboration between architecture and Ueno’s vocal subtones and multiphonics, accompanied by special lighting effects. For these nighttime performances, Ueno will focus on the three larger vaults. The central vault will be installed with an audio installation which will consist of 20 stand-alone speakers for which Ueno will compose a 20-channel composition, a ghostly proxy of his vocalizations. Ueno will perform complementary pieces in the annexing vaults on either side of the sound installation. The pre-recorded nature of the sound installation will be experienced in counterpoint to the live performances.

Note: There is no seating at the Cluskey Embankment Stores, please plan accordingly to stand or bring a portable chair.


Top Two: Erin Johnson (American, b. 1985), digital stills from Heavy Water, 2018, digital video, © Erin Johnson
Middle Right: Ken Ueno (American, b. 1970), photo: Peter Gannushkin
Lower Right: Johnson and Ueno in Portland, ME, in July 2016 for the production of Fortress Brass by Ken Ueno and as part of Erin Johnson’s project A Long Wait at Fort Gorges.