On the Couch with Emily Johnson

Emily Johnson - photo by Tracy Rector and Melissa PonderWho is Emily Johnson?
A Yup’ik artist who makes body-based work, originally from Alaska, and currently based in Minneapolis and New York City.

What would you do differently to what you do now?
I love what I do. There’s nothing else I’d want to! Making dance like this – it keeps me learning. Teaches me to trust. And I make choreography but because these dances are so broad I also get to do so many other things – make a set of  84 hand sewn quilts or 50 fish-skin lanterns in community sewing bees; I get to work with students planting trees or cleaning oysters; I get to listen to Indigenous star stories all around the world; I get to learn and share recipes. I’m almost always way in over my head so I listen and listen and follow my gut. My very favorite part is that through these projects, what I do brings me into deep communication and relationship with communities, individuals, place.

Who inspires you and why?
A lot of people inspire me. Especially now – people finding ways to make the world better, people in deep resistance, resurgence, change. I think of everyone at Standing Rock who was born or who became water protectors, I think of the teachers and staff at St. Joseph’s Flexible Learning Centre in North Melbourne, I think of the students. I think of everyone making SHORE possible here – people offering their knowledge, expertise, love, stories, work to this project to help make it happen. Also my grandma. She inspires me, lots.

What would you do to make a difference in the world? 
I really hope I’m doing it. It took me ages to be able to say I want my dances to help make the world better. But I can say that now. I hope my dances help make the world better. I hope they foster resonance and relationship. I hope they spark action, continued conversation. I hope they bring us to pay attention to one another and to the beings and world we live with.

Favourite holiday destination and why? 
Ha. I wish.

When friends come to town, what attraction would you take them to, and why?
If you’re here in May go to Yirramboi Festival!

What are you currently reading? 
In my hotel room currently? The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan; Mark My Words, Native Women Mapping Our Nations by Mishuana Goeman; What a Fish Knows by Jonathan Balcombe; The Return by Hisham Matar. I do fiction at night, biography and poetry during the day when I can, and all the non-fiction in the morning. I should read more news.

What are you currently listening to? 
TV is on for background noise right now but that’s out of character. I prefer quiet.  I don’t even listen to music that often, but I greatly appreciate when someone else puts it on. Lately when I do listen (like the other day spending 7 hours ironing costumes…) it’s either Laghdú by Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh or Beyoncé’s Lemonade.

Happiness is? 
Yesterday I saw a woman walking in Royal Park with her hands clasped behind her back. It reminded me of my great-grandma Lena. She used to walk like that. Remembering her, there in the park. That made me happy.

What does the future hold for you?
The good kind of more.

An award-winning choreographer and Guggenheim Fellow, Emily and her collaborators present SHORE in NARRM (Melbourne), a multi-day performance installation of four equal parts: Community Action, Story, Performance and Feast, as part of the 2017 Yirramboi Festival. For more information, visit: www.artshouse.com.au for details.

Image: Emily Johnson – photo by Tracy Rector and Melissa Ponder