Tom Johnson Guest Post: Tom’s performance at Artissma 2014
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White-toothed Ambition: an Invitation to an Empire State
Tom is an American visual artist, based in Turin, who creates drawings, sculptures and live performances. He was one of the sixteen artists invited to take part at PER4M, a special section of Artissima 2014 dedicated to Performing Art. Tom’s performance is titled White-toothed Ambition: an Invitation to an Empire State. The performance, 3 acts, 20 minutes each, one per day, was presented at Artissima International Fairground last November 8th at 6:30pm.
Because humans are very smart animals, they are excellent at finding better ways to take advantage of their situation. They are also not very good at limiting themselves to just taking what they need. It’s only a problem because it risks using up every resource and being left with nothing. It’s an old problem, and self-imposed moderation is the equally old solution. Unfortunately, many people find ambition more satisfying than moderation, probably because it feels more like being alive. Some might even say that ambition and desire are actually more “natural” than moderation and self-renunciation.
When first asked to present a performance in the PER4M program of the Turin contemporary art fair, ARTISSIMA 2014, I knew immediately that I wanted to address this paradoxical knot in the human situation. White-toothed Ambition: an Invitation to an Empire State is the result: a 40 minute monologue involving myself, four other actors, and a series of artworks (projected videos, drawings, sculptures). In the monologue I ironically depict a man torn between a series of forces; a desire to whiten his teeth because he finally understands what it means to have something concrete in life, a tragic sense of hollowness because he has lost his “perfect” job, his absolute satisfaction that he has found a “very special” house to buy with his new money, his confidence about his weekend job as a leader of a “personal transformation” workshop.
Before the performance I was asked by the art journal Art Text Pics to contribute an evocative text which could provide an introduction to the performance, I submitted the following:
“The performance is about building something out of nothing, and yet caring about that thing even though it is made of nothing. When we humans make something, we make it out of nothing and we make it by using things and speaking to each other. Obviously, we have to keep using and speaking in order to keep the thing we made existing. The existing keeps the speaking and using from seeming like nothing, but the speaking and using keeps the something existing. When we speak and use we make mistakes and the mistakes change the way the thing is existing. Making a mistake is not the same thing as growing, but growing is a kind of changing the way something is existing. Some people, however, can see changing the way something is existing as mistaken. Some people chose to not make mistakes.
This year, my wife and I have been looking for a new house. We have some money and we would love to find something that has a garden and that is a little “up”. Not necessarily “up” in the sense of above others but with a sensation of being a little “up”. We saw a nice house on Strada Rigolino. I liked it because the living room is high ceilinged and has lots of windows. It opens from two sides onto a portico and there is a free-standing fireplace next to one of the entrances. It might seem out of place, but actually, it really works. The fireplace creates an intimate corner in the middle of what is really a very open and fluid space. Outside there is a well cared for garden with two of those Japanese maple trees. When you arrive, you park up the hill a little and then walk down toward the house. There is a great view because you can look out over the house, all the way to the mountains, and up there the air is fresher than just a little further down the hill. Therefore, I am making a drama about three things; one, that in order to have any meaning in life, you have to keep on doing things and using things and, two, that if you keep on using things you inevitable use them up and destroy what there is, and, three, that in order to have any meaning in life, you have to keep on doing things and using things.”
Torino, Artissima, 2014