Atlantic - Ursula Johnson

The 2017 Sobey Art Award: Atlantic - Ursula Johson
2017 Sobey Art Award winner Ursula Johnson.

The Sobey Art Award is Canada's pre-eminent award for contemporary Canadian art. The annual prize is given to an artist under age 40, who has exhibited in a public or commercial art gallery within 18 months of being nominated.  

Ursula Johnson is an emerging performance and installation artist of Mi'kmaw First Nation ancestry. Since graduating from NSCAD in 2006, she has participated in over 30 group shows and 5 solo exhibitions. Johnson has been exploring various mediums including performance art; sculpture, music, printmaking and utilizing delegated performers as well as collaborative processes of making new works. Her performances are often place-based and employ cooperative didactic intervention. In Land Sings she has been using topographical terrain mapping to delineate a journey, which she translates into a drawn line, her collaborators use this line to score songs that they perform durationally. 

2017 Sobey Art Award Juror Sarah Filmore on Ursula Johnson

Nova Scotian artist Ursula Johnson's remarkable practice is built on memory and community. At this time when Canadians are celebrating and challenging the memory of nationhood, Johnson's work embodies a considered, critical, yet generous lens through which multiple histories and communities may be considered. A member of the Eskasoni Mi'qmaw First Nation from Cape Breton Island, Johnson's own circle of family members are accomplished basket-weavers. Drawing on this history, that of a skill specific to her own Mi'qmaw community, passed from generation to generation, Johnson explores what it means to honour and preserve those things that cement a culture or people. Bringing out the very best with her collaborators, she finds commonality among their differences. As Johnson's work centres on memory and community, words she spoke at the outset of her performance, re(al)-location resonate deeply. Calling on all those gathered in Highland Park, she noted that water holds memory, and that on that very day, in that place, we were changing it and making new memory. This is at the core of Johnson's practice: she honours what exists and what has come before, and calls on the active, conscious action of those around her to change what is yet to come.

The Art of Ursula Johnson

Ode to Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, 2016, sculpture with birch bark, ash wood, sweetgrass, paper and refinished found items. (Karen Asher)
Excavata, 2015, sculptural Installation with Pine Wood, Hardware, Found Object and Ash Log Shavings (collected from the performance Processing in Mi’kwite’tmn), collection of the artist. (Roger Smith)
Basket Weaving, 2015, cooperative durational performance with white ash splints, collection of the artist. (Kim Anderson)
L’nuwelti’k, 2014, cooperative Based Durational Performance with Black Ash Splints, collection of the artist. (Mathieu Léger)
Hot Looking, 2014, durational performance Based Installation with Delegated Performer and Looped Audio, collection of the artist. (Michael Wasnidge)
Mi’kwite’tmn (Do You Remember), 2014, multicomponent solo exhibition with sculpture, craft, interactive media and performance, collection of the artist. (Chris Smith.)