Visiting artist Erin Johnson gives talk, shares sociopolitical artwork

Anna Canizales

Art installations featuring raw, unedited videos of people in nuclear shelters and of wild dog breeds were on display at a lecture led by artist Erin Johnson on Thursday.

The New York-based artist discussed the stories behind her work, shared her artistic approaches, and explained her creative process and story ideas with dozens of audience members in a full UT Art Building and Museum lecture hall.

Johnson, a visiting assistant professor of digital media, creates art that blends documentary, experimental and narrative practices through video installations. Her research-driven projects are intended to relate physical landscapes to sociopolitical and personal narratives, she said. In many of the videos, people told stories about their lives. 

Johnson said her video installations explore imaginary and real social and political situations. One piece she displayed, “Salidas y Entradas Exits and Entrances,” highlights the lack of political voice the elderly have in the El Paso community and aims to imagine new potential futures for those people, Johnson said.

“I think that something I’m really interested in is how every single thing we encounter in the world is very complex,” Johnson said. “It’s exciting to be able to choose one small thing as a lens and (begin) to then unravel from there.”


Johnson said all of her projects begin with a phone call to a stranger and are primarily influenced by who is willing to work with her and invest in the project.

“I think this will give people a deeper understanding of an artist’s practice and concerns over formal artistic points and the world at large,” said Matthew Cronin, a teaching assistant in the Department of Art and Art History. “(The art) forces someone to change the way they think about something.”

Johnson said she is currently working with groups of scientists and artists on a project about the longest-running animal research center in Puerto Rico, focusing on colonialism and the relationship between
two species.

Anika Cartterfield, a studio art graduate student, said she organized the event and worked in residency with Johnson at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture this past summer. Cartterfield said she appreciated the support of the fine arts faculty who hosted the event.

“(I want students) to get exposure to different ways of working and thinking,” Cartterfield said. “Erin’s very much a research-based artist, but she also works with video and the relationship between the two of those.”