Transcendent Light: The Sculpture of David Johnson (extract)

Untitled (moon) (1986) is stunningly simple yet breathtakingly effective, through its associations and implications, in bringing the cosmos within. A bucket with milk in the bottom, in a darkened space has an image of the crescent moon projected into it, and the luminescent glow that surrounds the image uncannily simulates the real moon, as it floats on the eerily pale ground of the milk. In her book, Textures of Light, Cathryn Vasseleu states that "Light dawns as the chiasmic coincidence of exteriority and interiority in the moment of illumination", just as our eye acts as an experiential conduit between our percept and its object in an almost magical negotiation, so Johnson's simple work magically gathers the moon into the interiority of the bucket. Johnson also employs the bodily connotations of milk here as a metaphorical bridge between body and cosmos.

The physical implications of the daily grind and our predictable responses, figure very little in Johnson's work. Metaphysical concerns dominate here, and while, superficially, his work may be compared to other neo-conceptualists such as Mona Hatoum, Ceal Floyer, Cornelia Parker, or James Turrell, in the final analysis, his work is more intimate, more engaging, more poignant, he introduces the element of commonality into his work through the use of everyday objects and materials in unorthodox contexts. Johnson replaces that old ontological chestnut "Why is there something rather than nothing?" with visions - albeit momentary - of a nothingness which, around its periphery, allows somethingness to exist.

The metaphysical is currently very much out of fashion; however, contemporary practitioners such as Ceal Floyer, Susan Hiller, Mariko Mori, Tony Oursler and Bill Viola all make metaphysical references in their work. Furthermore, the metaphysical, or rather a post-romantic re-invention of the meta-physical should be seen as a foil to the ubiquity of the post-industrial, supra-physical, best exemplified by those silent, invisible yet all pervasive radio-frequency emanations that drive the IT revolution. If we can get it instantly by the press of a button, if we can access not only more, but access it faster, than our neighbour then it has cred. If it requires an aggregation of knowledge, contemplation and a leap of faith, it sinks without trace, there is , however, an increasing band of artists keeping the meta-physical alive, and David Johnson is firmly amongst their number.

In his book, The Space of Literature, The French philosopher, Maurice Blanchot, in referring to Rilke's Duino Elegies, asks the question "What exactly is this interiority of the exterior, this extension within us where 'the infinite penetrates so intimately that it is as though the shining stars rested lightly in his breast'? Can we truly accede to this space?" This is, of course a leading and somewhat self-reflexive question, but one which David Johnson incisively perpetuates and illuminates within his penetrating and enigmatic corpus of work. If we instinctively feel ourselves as being interior within an exterior world, how can we come to know that exterior world without being a part of it, we are in the world as much as the world is in us as much as we are in the world, it is this fascinating, subtle and fluctuating interface that Johnson's work persistently explores and tests. In that Gestalt switch where in an instant we move from one polarised perception of an object to its polar opposite, our faith in the veracity of perception is shaken - in Johnson's cocktail of illusory works, that faith is shaken and stirred.

Roy Exley
from Imaginary light, 2001