Rachel Johnston

My art practice has two distinct, but related, strands. In the studio I make shoe-like objects that are worn in specific environments, gaining a sense of imprint and identity through use. Fabricated using yarns, wire and felt, material process is an important part of this work.

The themes of place, identity and journey-making which arise from this work are also central to the work I make with others. Working collaboratively with artists and community groups, the relationship between image-making and narrative building is explored, using places and objects as a starting point in understanding personal history.

One Kilogramme of Red Wool

In this ongoing body of work, I am continuing to explore the themes of measurement, place and narrative that have been central to my practice for many years.

In making and wearing the shoe-like objects, I am attempting to understand and describe the space that exists between empirical measurement (weights, quantities and maps) and the lived, bodily experience of the world. The shoe-form becomes the focal point in this process, the site at which logical enquiry and subjective experience collide. The weight and colour of each pair are specific and often relate to a story or narrative, but as they are worn the shoe and its extruding yarn pick up detritus, becoming shaped through use, gaining an identity of their own. The contrasting physical effects of different environments become embodied by the material; the drag and pull of walking over rough ground or the weight of water churning the yarn, become part of the object. The photographs accompanying the pieces record the process of wearing, pinpointing a series of moments that suggest a story, but do not define anything

Listening to others' stories has inspired my thinking in this work. For many people this sense of ‘one place in another’, the immediacy and presence of a previous life coexisting with the reality of the present, is powerful - being bodily present in one place, but emotionally and sensorially elsewhere.

The textile processes used in constructing these pieces: weaving, knotting and felt, have their own historical and narrative associations with the notion of measurement and these form part of the evolution of this work.

Mappa projects

Since 1996 I have worked with Richard Neville and Emily Lawlor as a partnership, Mappa

1. Unpacking the Past 2007-2009

Over the course of a year we ran workshops with a range of community groups in Portsmouth using the City Museum’s loans collection as a starting point. Over 100 participants were involved in creating imagery and sharing personal stories. The art work produced in collaboration with participants was shown in a final exhibition at the Centre Gallery, Portsmouth City Museum then at Portsea Library. An ‘Unpacking the Past’ booklet with text and images was also produced. The project was run in collaboration with Portsmouth Museum and Records Office and supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

2.‘We Have One Moment to Talk’ 2001 During Refugee Week 2001 Mappa worked with Refugee and Asylum Seekers and the inhabitants of Dover, collecting personal stories and images, in an attempt to build a picture of the town and its inhabitants. We worked with participants to make 35mm slides using photographic and drawn imagery that then became a projection piece and a printed booklet including text inspired by our conversations with people. This was published in 2002. Funded by Arts South East Arts.

3. ‘Maps for Life Dover’ 1999-2001 A Mappa art and storytelling project with children from Refugee and Asylum Seeker families and their peers in four Dover schools. We made a series of art works, including textile and photographic pieces, with pupils and these were exhibited in the ‘Fleeting Visions’ exhibition at Dover Museum, January 2001. The project was funded by South East Arts, The Hilden Charitable Fund, Kent County Council, Dover District Council and Dover Town Council. The image shown here is from a photographic piece of eighty 35mm slides, made with pupils at Astor Secondary School and shown originally as a projection and prints.

4. ‘Maps for Life’ During 1998 and 1999 we worked with pupils from Traveller families, Refugee and Asylum seeker backgrounds and their peers at Lewisham Bridge School, London. We focussed on ideas surrounding maps and journey making using a variety of photographic techniques. An exhibition of the work was held at the school and moved on to Lewisham Library. Funded with an ACE ‘Artists in Sites for Learning’ grant.

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