Hi there. My name is Heather Johnson; I’ve been a practicing visual artist for close to 20 years. Late last year I was offered a month-long Artist Residency fellowship at BoxoHOUSE, a residency program in Joshua Tree, California dedicated to the investigation and development of ideas related to place, community and the environment.
This is a dream come true for me - part of something I've fantasized of ever since I made the unlikely discovery 6 years ago that despite my small size, I am capable of riding motorcycles. I took it as a sign, and gave notice at my job.
This spring, I will ride my motorcycle from my home in northern New Jersey to Joshua Tree, beyond and back, alone. I will make a new collection of art works based on my experiences in Joshua Tree, the Mojave Desert and what I see during this journey...and I will leave a trail of art works at sites around the country, that anyone can encounter, take and keep.
To do this, I need your help.
Me, my work and the frightening and beautiful
Riding a motorcycle feels like flying. Other than a helmet and protective leathers, there are no barriers to isolate you from the wind, passing trees or the road itself. There is no cinematic lens through which to view the passing landscape - you are a part of the landscape itself.
My work is about the relationship between the land, the sky and my own body. I am fascinated with the movement inside an engine as it relates to circulations within the body itself. The repeating, propelling explosions of a combustion engine express a profound statement about creativity – the necessity of destruction in the act of creation. I make embroideries, using stitches fine enough to give the appearance of pen-and-ink line drawings from a distance. This repetitive labor is sweetly cyclical, a slow meditation upon the rapid-fire action of the pistons that feed its inspiration. Layers of information overlap and are woven together to bring about new relationships and meanings as I try to make sense of this enormous universe within which we are spinning continuously. You can learn more about my work and background via my website at http://www.heatherLjohnson.com.
For In Search of the Frightening and Beautiful I will ride across the country looking for dramatic marks in the landscape made by humans in the name of art, science or "progress". Strip mines, toxic waste dumps, and the monumental earthworks of Robert Smithson and others all qualify as targets for this exploration. From each site I will take something: a photo, pamphlet, piece of trash, or anything else that reveals the essence of that place. Using these materials, I will make a new collection of embroideries at BoxoHOUSE -- small studies that will eventually lead to larger-scale works.
At any place from which I take, I will leave a piece of myself: a calling card in the form of a hand-embroidered rendering of my body and the machine that carried me there. Pieces of my body, and pieces of my bike: hands, feet, ears, breasts, pistons, alternators, gears, nuts and bolts. Like a trail of breadcrumbs, there will be bits of me left all around the country for people to encounter and wonder about later. There will be a blog with road stories, photos and my route map, in case anyone out there wants to trace my steps and hunt down my breadcrumbs…check it out now at http://thefrighteningandbeautiful.blogspot.com/.
Why do I need money, and where is it going?
Well, it's quite simple. A 10,000 mile road trip is an expensive proposition, no matter how frugal you are. I will camp, stay with friends and eat from food stands, grocery stores and cheap diners whenever possible. Though my bike sips gas, fuel alone will run around $1000 for the trip and my month-long stay in Joshua Tree.
My $11,500 goal will cover not only food, accommodations and gas, but motorcycle maintenance, art project-related expenses, and my share of the rent that still must be paid while I'm gone. There is also some allotted for the unforeseen, such as towing, incident-related bike repairs and 2 months of health insurance that I really hope I don't need.
Even the smallest donation will help tremendously!
$10 will pay for a tank of gas or lunch somewhere on the road. $25 will get me a campsite and a bundle of wood for a campfire. $50 will buy me a room on the inevitable night I get caught in a crazy thunderstorm. If you wanna get really generous, $500 will pay for the 6000-mile service my bike will need once I get to Joshua Tree!
What'll you get in return?
Aside from my deep and permanent gratitude, I've created a few perks I hope you will enjoy. For a donation of $25, you will get an acknowledgement in my blog and on Facebook, as well as a signed photograph taken on the trip and email updates sent from the road; for $25 more I'll also send you a hand-written postcard from one of the cities or towns I pass through.
For those willing to shell out $125 or more, you'll get everything mentioned plus a signed book packed with images and anecdotes that'll make a great keepsake. For $250 I will stitch your name by hand to a linen swatch and let it fly out into the landscape forever in your honor... you will of course get a photograph of this. And if you are one of those rare souls in the position to donate really big sums, there are original works of art in it for you!
Your assistance will help raise the visibility of women motorcyclists in the U.S. and will blur boundaries between the two very distinct worlds of art practice and motorcycle culture. But most importantly, you will be supporting a dream that, to me, signifies the heart and soul of what most work so hard for – freedom -- to roam, to create, to squeeze every drop of meaning out of life.
Other ways to help
We are all still struggling like hell in this unfortunate economy. Many of you east-coasters affected by Hurricane Sandy are still coping with the damage it wrought, and will be hurting from that for a long time to come. Others face challenges I can't begin to fathom that make this campaign seem trivial.
If helping financially is not an option, I hope you'll help me spread the word!
If you like the concept of this project, follow my blog and post a comment or hit the Facebook "share" button, as you can bet there will be moments where I'll need the moral support - those west Texas roads are going to get lonely! If I pass through your neck of the woods and you know of a cheap place to crash or a good place to eat, I'd love to hear about it - post it on the project Facebook page and let me know!
Your support in whatever form it takes means more to me than I can express. THANK YOU!