About the Artist
Born 1980 in Alton, Illinois
Barry Johnston’s sculpture, poetry, and performance are at times simultaneously destructive and optimistic. Drawing from a wealth of influences from Jean Genet to the postminimalist sculptor Ree Morton, Johnston’s work asserts the creative possibilities of destruction—the anarchic dream of wiping the slate clean.
In his installation Margin Rising (2013), Johnston positions an empty concrete bookshelf whose surface appears to have been licked by flames literally and metaphorically as a site of transformation. The bookshelf seems to be charred by the ideas within, open and ready to accept more. Johnston’s performances envision this same destructive, anarchic transition through a “Final Party.” The phrase appears in titles, across banners, and as the name of Johnston’s KCHUNG radio program, and is reflected in the raucous “chorus after chorus of propagandistic slogans” of his performances. Johnston’s work and performances sees social change through the kind of rough energy of punk culture, but if the spirit of punk shows skepticism toward art’s ability to transcend the social, political, and economic conditions of late capitalism, Johnston’s work is decisively more optimistic.