THE EMPATHY TOWER
As part of Hidden Civil War, Johnny was commissioned to perform the building of his artwork "The Empathy Tower" - a response to Ken Loach’s new film I, Daniel Blake - at Northumberland Street on Thursday 20th and continue at Newbridge Project 28th - 30th October 2016. (external link)
Isolating themes from the film, the Empathy Tower is a public engagement work which offers an opportunity for individuals to sign and customise a small block of wood and be involved in creating a lasting sculptural work - a mood of the day. By participating in this way individuals are able to visualise their empathy, show solidarity with others in the Benefits system and expose the taboo of sighing on.
Actors were recruited to hand out ‘jobseeker appointment tickets’ in Newcastle Upon Tyne city centre. The tickets directed recipients to a high visibility location in the city where it could be handed to an ‘official’ sitting at a Job Seeker themed desk. The person was then invited to ‘sign on’ - signing their name on a wooden block – adding a drawing/slogan/graffiti was encouraged. The signed block was then added to a dynamic tower of blocks - indicating strength and solidarity. As a point of irony, the higher the tower, the more fragile the message.
Main themes explored:
You need an appointment – nothing happens without an appointment at the Job Centre.
The wooden blocks are representative of Daniel Blake’s career as a joiner but also represent a constant, a natural honesty and as far from technology as I can get.
Signing your name is an experience. A feeling of giving away something, a part of your identity. By giving to this work, you are showing empathy with those in the Benefits system.
By choosing to deface the wooden block, the ‘system’ is subverted
The Empathy Tower is solidarity - strength in numbers
Photographs by Jess Shepherd
Video by Josh Wilson
Gesture to Jester in 36 pages
In the run up to the last US presidential election, references to wannabe American President Donald Trump as a “Bum” or an “Ass Hole” were all over the internet. I considered, what is a Bum? where do they come from? what if we are all Bums in our own way? Maybe we are all Bums until someone tells us we are not. How did we get here? where are us Bums going and how will it end? Then Trump started talking about his “Wall” the divider between Mexico and the US. Moved by the crazy injustice and blatant disregard for humanity Donald Trump appeared to display. I started on this new work.
A difficult message to transmit I but wanted to capture imagination and attention quickly. How best to warn of the consequences of closed borders and deteriorating humanity? I surmised the end of the world will be communicated with mobile devices, then I made the leap to mobile computer game aesthetics and a visual language which, often flippant in nature offers perfect pictorial euphemism for my message of doom, colourful, busy, entertaining and disposable.
In distorting the use of the word “Bum” I created a satirical Boschian artwork, an image of conflict “Battle of the Bums” as visualisation of my thoughts on just how building a wall, re-enforcing a tiered society and demonising people for wanting to move to better places, may well turn out for the world. The work was specifically for display at Newcastle Late Nights Baltic39 ~ 2017, to be a talking piece for the night at Studio11.
The image was well received and started heated conversations but for some the work was difficult to absorb, there was a reoccurring “what’s it all about?” I needed to explain the work somehow, a manual or an explainer or a book? In this way the work could be introduced and a chance for me to empty my mind and move on.
As a result, I created this, an illustrated work which suggests in its narrative that we are all Bums, and this is what happens when we go building walls.The book is a comment on developing a society as much as it is a simple message on loss of humanity and cause of conflict. Its language is straight forward though it should be noted the work contains adult themes, albeit understated.
This is an Art Book, it is short and to the point and niche. That said, I hope to capture imagination and some people may wish to own it.
Johnny August 2017
First Bowie, now this
Group exhibition at Berwick Arts Gymnasium Gallery. "Johnny brings a deconstructional lens to the systems of diplomacy, discourse, and commodification at work within contemporary politics"