Untitled (Insectivorous Plants), 2016
It's just me, standing outside watching snow, 2014
single channel video, 9 minutes
50-60 photographs of potted plants taken between the hours of one and five in the morning, outside the windows of various banks throughout Manhattan. A video loop lifted from a public advertisement created by First Republic Bank is displayed among these images. The video depicts two digitally animated white orchids slowly swaying back and forth in a simulated breeze.
A video of a maintenance worker sweeping snow off of a sidewalk during a blizzard while, inside an adjacent building lobby, real estate developer Edward Minskoff and contemporary artist Jeff Koons inaugurate a sculpture of a giant red balloon dog.
Will you speak to the ordinary-ness of your photos and video, their scale vis-a-vis the passerby?
I like the one-to-oneness of the lone person watching something from the street, it allows for intimacy and nuance to exist even when structures and situations have dwarfed the human-scale. In a sense, I see myself interested in conducting fieldwork that has more to do with developing a micro-archive (a personal history) of a place than with attempting to create something universal, though both are certainly interconnected. The video fragment that I pulled from the First Republic bank advertisement conveys a peculiar form of sensuality, that prior to coming across it on the street, I had only been internalizing as I was making the photographs. That little screen saver has become a very real form of erotica for me, silent, banal and created by a bank. Like the Jeff Koons video or the video of the moon being eclipsed by the freedom tower, I'm more interested in watching these systems reveal themselves to me as opposed to imposing a premeditated opinion.
What role does the glare of reflection play in your photos?
As New York becomes more built-up and developed (more glass buildings), I see the possibilities of having physical relationships with certain aspects of the city to be more intangible and abstract. To do what Gordon Matta-Clark did in the 70's, cutting physical holes through a building, is undoubtedly more complicated in the context of New York today. Because of this, I've been interested in the prospect of cutting psychic holes. Ephemeral materials like light and reflections have interesting implications in regards to touching and permeating different structures in the city. I think that the glares that go over these plants have a lot to do with this desire to permeate and touch.
How do you conceive of the relationship between desire and the City in your project?
Initially it was very much like a moth to a flame... or maybe a fly to a bug zapper. Most banks keep their lights on 24hrs a day as a form of security, and often, while walking down the street very late at night, I'd get caught up in a primal urge to stare into their windows. There's something so seductively perverse about how those spaces maintain their aura of invitation while still being repellent to human-life. It was the absence of a human element that made the sparse forms of life that I could see in these banks more visible and attractive. The exhibitionist quality of the plants as they were situated in these windows at 2-3 in the morning, made their sense of sentience so visceral and urgent. It didn't feel like I was taking photographs as much as I was encountering truncated forms of life in an otherwise depopulated city.
David Johnson was born and is based in NYC. He is the recipient of the Elliot Lash Memorial prize for excellence in sculpture, The Cooper Union Full Tuition scholarship and was a resident at the TAAK summer program in Marfa Texas. He received a BFA from Cooper Union in 2015.