When we find a space where we really feel at home, we may want to stay a while. For performance maker Samantha Johns, home is a blissful state of writing poetry at 3 am. Johns is a performance artist enamored with the creative process itself, and in search of “home” she dedicated the last 2 years to the writing letters to anyone that’s left a lasting feeling with her.
This somewhat romantic task turned into a gargantuan list of 2,504 people. Johns started writing letters September 2015 at Tofte Lake Creative Residency and she will likely reach the quarter-way mark at Roam Miami (she’s currently 600 letters in).
Spontaneity and whim figure throughout her work, such as the project itself, which was born out of the simple offhand comment “ I bet you can’t name all the people you’ve ever known.’ Her definition of truly “knowing” someone is feeling an emotion when thinking of the person in question. Her writing method is simple: to meditate on the person for one minute… while resisting the urge to google them.
No surprise then that for most of us, a full email will easily be replaced by emojis, texts or other short bursts of communication.
For anyone who has ever misunderstood (or disliked,) theatre, Johns sympathizes. Her current performance style, best described as musings drawn over time and space, evolved from discontentment with typical theatre. Now her work tends on the philosophical side.
These letters will culminate in a visual installation titled, “Missives: A Minor Language”. The public will be invited to the installation to read all of the letters, and can take them with them if desired. Johns hasn’t left humor out of this final stage of the project, which she refers to as both “invasive and needy”, referring to the exposure of personal thoughts as well as the need to be read. She is still undecided whether to include a space in the gallery for responses.
In case you want to get in touch, Johns is still adding names to her file.
"It takes a lot of mental energy to wholly think of another human and then then decide what you want to write to them about"
Tell me about your background, how did you get into performance art?
I am a Minneapolis based director/designer working in contemporary performance. I am also a poet. I got Bachelors in theatre, then I began to hate theatre, it felt like it [theatre] didn’t know how to grow up and become a cooler person, like it was stuck in middle school. A stranger at the time, my best friend now, said, ‘hey do you want to make something with me, i don’t know what it is’. I said yes. I started to make weird shit, it felt good, people were drawn to it in odd ways, I kept making. I like to build work that is often in response to theatre, modernity and love, and sometimes marching band.
What inspired you to do a project about communication?
I am not sure it <em>is</em> about communication, it might be, but mostly I don’t think it’s about anything.
Sometimes I think it’s a small selfish ritual I am building only for myself, like a kind of memoire, a way or marking or knowing my life, but through others. Like I am building a giant filing cabinet of my life, in order to know it better. I think it might be about not knowing how to be a human, or not knowing how to hold a broken heart, or where to put all the words I want to fit tidy and make sense but sprawl on for miles.
I spent one year, September 2014-15, making a list of the 2,543 people I know, I think I did this on a bet. I am still adding names to this file. I started writing letters September 10, 2015 at Tofte Lake Creative Residency and reached the 602 letter mark at Roam.
This sounds very meditative! What are you discovering as you go through the process of writing? Is it therapeutic?
Writing used to be a magic, mind-blowing experience for me, I would chain smoke until 3 am and write beautiful poetry. In the last few years I have not gotten to that place with writing, sometimes I think I invented this project in the hopes to force myself back into those blissful states or writing, it hasn’t’ really happened yet.
It goes in phases, I notice I start to use the letters like a journal, then I have to take a break for a bit, I find I stop thinking about the person and just write to the universe in general, which I don’t want to do….
It takes a lot of mental energy to wholly think of another human and then decide what you want to write to them about. So, it’s not been meditative, though I feel I might be learning a new kind of empathy through it.
Mostly I am hating it. Mostly I am wondering where writing goes, the ability to write well, with your whole heart
how does it go away? Is it that your heart has left? Is it that you are just rusty? Is it a phase and will someday return?
What do you hope people will feel about the installation?
Hum… well… Impressed. In awe. In a way, I think what I am doing is really stupid, a big ole waste of time, they might feel that. There are a few letters that break my heart, were the hardest things I’ve ever written,
I hope those ones get read, I hope I break hearts.
Has anyone written back yet? How do people respond to the letters?
I am writing a letter to every person I have ever known. These letters culminate as a visual installation titled, Missives: A Minor Language. The public will be invited to the installation to read any and all of the letters, which will be hung on gallery walls, and also they are free to take letters. So, no, they don’t get mailed out. you have to come to the letter. and anyone can read your letter.
I have been debating if I want to make a small space in the gallery where people can respond. I am not sure yet… still waiting to find a gallery that will house this project.
The Five Uses of an Egg, co-created with Lucas Koski
Britney Spears’s Crossroads, designer and co-directed with George McConnell