Leon Johnson

Leon Johnson Leon Johnson_project imageABOUT THE ARTIST

Leon Johnson was born in Cape Town, South Africa, and left for America in 1979, three years after the murder of Steve Biko. Johnson is a recipient of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant for Painting, a Yaddo Fellowship, and he won both the Ersted Award and the Williams Fellowship for innovative teaching. His film Faust/Faustus In Deptford was selected for the KunstFilmBienale in Cologne. He lives in Detroit, where he co-evolved Salt and Cedar Letterpress with his partner Megan O’Connell and sons Marlowe and Leander. Leon continues to develop a new learning and production laboratory in Georgia, Salt and Cedar South, as part of the work he initiated during his 2014 Martha Daniel Newell Distinguished Scholar residency. He was recently named a Bemis Center Fellow.

To see more work by Leon Johnson, visit www.leonjohnson.org.

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Leon Johnson will release, over three nights and locations, a limited edition book produced by Salt & Cedar Press in Eastern Market (a space he co-evolved with his wife Megan O’Connell). The book drifts and celebrates the Fox Creek canal area of Detroit, a transport corridor in use since the early history of Detroit, and the site of a permanent research location to be imagined, built, and led by The Estuary Collective. The publication will include a new commissioned poem by Bill Harris, almanac notes by Norman Douglas, photography by Leander Johnson, a commissioned composition by Joel Peterson (also performed live), six maps by Paul Bartow, and six new works by the artist. The project is designed, typeset, and printed by O’Connell and handbound by Johnson.

The project’s Ashland site, by proximity and purpose, is inextricably linked to the creek and inflected by its articulation as a canal. The geography surrounding Fox Creek has been transforming over the past 120 years, from marshland to suburban geography. It is a vector of movement, as well as a destination. From the time of its inception, the Canal’s geographical footprint has been a generous biome for exploration and experimentation. The new stewards (The Estuary Collective) of 256 Ashland will present the site as a localized biome, acting in a symbiotic and mutualistic relationship with the human/nonhuman community at large. The site, inflected by the attributes of The Fox Creek Canal, will direct flows of thought, history, and practice associated with understanding, transforming, and the invention of another future. Projects to follow include performances, film, convivial gatherings, seminars and symposia.


To make art today is, necessarily, to engage in an emergent practice, one that is not only founded upon the demands of one’s craft, but is situated within the sometimes chaotic intertwining of debates within the humanities, sciences, politics, world[s] of commerce, and communications. The particular aim of our work is to bring to accountability experiential, pleasurable, and generative projects. Nimble in its movements and fluid in its boundaries, our work supports the play of ideas, in collaboration with others working in hybrid forms, across a range of platforms and practices.

Sarat Maharaj reflects on this dynamic: “[a]s we cannot quite know beforehand what form this will take–each instance is different and unpredictable-–we have to be wary about attempts to regulate artistic research, to knock it into shape of the academic disciplines, to make it a lookalike of their logic and architecture. What matters today is its ‘difference’ – the distinctive modalities of its knowledge production.”

The process of generating these projects requires a collective performance of memory, actively traversing the space between the claims of the past and the needs of he future. To remember, to imagine, and then to speak are performative operations, and constitute compelling creative domains.