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Professor Esther Johnson MA (RCA), FHEA

Professor of Film and Media Arts


Summary

I am an artist and filmmaker working at the intersection of artist moving image and documentary. I am former recipient of the Philip Leverhulme Research Prize for Performing and Visual Arts, hold an MA from the Royal College of Art, London, and am a Fellow of The Higher Education Academy.

My work has been exhibited internationally in over 40 countries. Recent projects include: DUST & METAL (in-production in Vietnam), Liberation Radio, SHIPS in the SKY, ASUNDER, a ROLE to PLAY, and Alone Together: the Social Life of Benches.

About

Working with moving image, audio, photography and archival material, my documentary portraits foster an engagement with the effects of progress and societal change on communities, and how the universal impacts on the individual. My research draws upon oral testimony, experience and politics to create portraits that focus on marginal worlds to reveal resonant stories that may otherwise remain hidden or ignored. Recurring themes include social narratives, personal histories, memory and testament, cultural and heritage, folklore, regeneration, and exploration of architectural vernaculars and the inhabited environment. Recent research has focused on the repositioning of archival material as a way of addressing the relationship between history, memory and storytelling.

Work is made for exhibition, cinema screening and broadcast through individual projects, commissions and residencies. Screening and exhibition includes Barbican, London; BFI London Film Festival; CPH:DOX, Copenhagen; ICA, London; Hull 2017; International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam; International Short Film Festival Oberhausen, Germany; Istanbul Biennial; Kassel Documentary Film and Video Festival, Germany; Landscape Institute; NASA, California; Sheffield Doc/Fest; SXSW and Tate galleries, London. Film works have been shown on BBC and Channel 4, and audio works have been broadcast on ABC Australia, BBC Radio 4, Resonance FM and RTÉ radio.

Support for my work has included 14–18 NOW; Arts Council England; Arts and Humanities Research Council; BBC; British Council UK and Vietnam; Channel 4; Creative Skillset; DCMS; Film London Artists’ Film and Video Award; Film and Video Umbrella; Heritage Lottery; James Reckitt Library Trust; Jerwood Arts; National Endowment for the Arts, USA; National Lottery; Radio Arts; Science Museum Group; Screen Yorkshire; Sheffield Children’s Festival; Sound Bank; Sound and Music; Sunderland Cultural Partnership; The Leverhulme Trust and Yorkshire Arts.

I have curated film and artist moving image programmes for galleries and film festivals and written for several arts publications. Work is held in the special collections of British Artists’ Film and Video Study Collection, Central Saint Martins; Science Museum Group; Squeaky Wheel Film and Media Art Center, Buffalo and Yorkshire Film Archive. Distributors include ARGOS centre for art and media, Brussels and vtape, Toronto.

Teaching

Department of Art and Design

Social Sciences and Arts

Subject Area

Film and Media

Courses

- Artists' Film and Video
- Documentary Film and Media Production
- Use of Archival Material

In addition to being Principal Lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, I have delivered workshops in film, photography and audio at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok; Squeaky Wheel and University of Buffalo, New York; and at galleries, museums and higher-education colleges in Hull, Leeds, London, Manchester and Sheffield.

Professional Contexts in Film and Media

Experimental Film and Video

Research

DUST & METAL

'Dust & Metal' (Bụi và Kim loại) is a feature-length film in production in Vietnam directed by myself and produced by Live Cinema UK, working with Hanoi-based Vietnam Film Institute and TPD: The Centre for Assistance and Development of Movie Talents. The project is funded by the British Council Digital Collaboration Fund, and offers alternative perspectives of Vietnamese cultural heritage through the synergy of crowd-sourced material, archive film, oral history interviews, and newly shot footage. At the heart of this project, are personal narratives of freedom in Vietnam that connect with the country’s ubiquitous mode of transport: the MOTORBIKE. The pandemic has led to creative collaborative co-production methods for film production between the UK, Vietnam and US. With a score composed by San Francisco-based electronic artist Xo Xinh, and sound design by Hanoi-based artist Nhung Nguyễn, the project is being devised with the unique aim of premiering as a live ‘cine-concert’.

Liberation Radio

‘Liberation Radio’ is an interdisciplinary audio-visual installation work by myself, hanoi-based sound artist Nhung Nguyen (aka Sound Awakener), and historian and BBC broadcaster Matthew Sweet. Supported by FAMLAB (Film, Archives and Music Lab) Fund as part of the British Council’s Heritage of Future Past project in Vietnam, the work will premiere at Hanoi’s contemporary art space MANZI from 28 May — 13 June 2021 www.manziart.space.

The work centres on the remarkable untold story of a group of American military deserters who in 1968 went to the North Vietnamese mission in Stockholm with one object in mind – to join the army they had been drafted to fight. Instead, they were recruited for the propaganda war – and using magnetic tape, pop music and political rhetoric in programmes made for Liberation Radio, they aimed to persuade other American servicemen to desert the war. Their recordings were transported from Sweden to Vietnam by diplomatic bag, and broadcast from transmitters on the rooftops of Hanoi, and from revolutionary bases in the countryside. (Sometimes during aerial bombardment.)

The installation combines video material sourced from 52 public domain films and a scripted narrative that conjures the cloak-and-dagger activities of the clandestine network of anti-war activists and state intelligence operatives who managed the movement of deserters from Japan through the Soviet Union to Sweden - these are performed by, among others, the actor David Warner, star of Karel Reisz’s Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs (1971).

SHIPS in the SKY

‘SHIPS in the SKY’ is a social history arts project that offers a unique 360-degree portrait of a building through time — the former Hull Co-operative society store and the UK’s largest mosaic ‘Three Ships’ (by Alan Boyson) that crowns the building entrance. The building has had many lives from a department store, dance hall, music venue and nightclubs (the Skyline Ballroom, Bailey’s, and Romeo's & Juliet’s), to an indoor market on the ground floor in the 1990s. When the Hull Co-operative closed, a section of the building was later occupied by British Home Stores from 1970 until final closure in 2016. Following closure, the building has been boarded-up ahead of demolition and redevelopment. The project has so far uncovered multiple alternative histories of this iconic Hull landmark — from progressive modernist public art, the co-operative movement and post-war rebuilding, to women in the workplace, friendships forged through work, retail history, and the nightclubs that have used the building. In commemorating the life of the building and those that have poignant memories connected to it, the project also prompts questions of who chooses what heritage is retained in the built environment, and ideas of architecture and public art as ‘place-making’.

Featured Projects

Awaiting SHU links for the below but have added external links I have:

Relevant Projects

- DUST & METAL (in-production in Vietnam)
- Liberation Radio
- SHIPS in the SKY
- ASUNDER
- a ROLE to PLAY
- Alone Together: the Social Life of Benches

Collaborators and Sponsors

  • 14-18 NOW
  • Arts Council England
  • Arts and Humanities Research Council
  • BBC
  • British Council UK and Vietnam
  • Channel 4
  • Creative Skillset
  • DCMS
  • Film London Artists’ Film and Video Award
  • Film and Video Umbrella
  • Heritage Lottery
  • James Reckitt Library Trust
  • Jerwood Arts
  • National Endowment for the Arts, USA
  • National Lottery
  • Radio Arts
  • Science Museum Group
  • Screen Yorkshire
  • Sheffield Children’s Festival
  • Sound Bank
  • Sound and Music
  • Sunderland Cultural Partnership
  • The Leverhulme Trust
  • Yorkshire Arts

Publications

Journal articles

Johnson, E. (2020). In the Shadow of the Beast. Tribune Magazine.

Johnson, E. (2019). Fish and Ships. The Critical Fish, (2), 36-42. https://issuu.com/thecriticalfish/docs/fish_issue_2_-_brill_-_web_version

Johnson, E. (2019). Fish and Ships. The Critical Fish, (2), 36-42. https://issuu.com/thecriticalfish/docs/fish_issue_2_-_brill_-_web_version

Johnson, E. (2019). Hull's Ships in the Sky. Tribune Magazine. https://tribunemag.co.uk/2019/05/hulls-ships-in-the-sky

Johnson, E., & Bird, L. (2018). Building ships in the sky. The modernist, 27. http://www.the-modernist.org/shop/the-modernist-magazine-issue-27-high

Johnson, E. (2018). ASUNDER. Viewfinder Magazine: Learning on Screen, (110). https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/viewfinder/articles/asunder/

Johnson, E. (2018). The Great War’s hidden stories reveal heroism and tragedy in equal measure. The Conversation, n/a (n/a).

Johnson, E., & Ballin, D. (2017). Echoes of protest: untold stories of the 1984–1985 UK Miners’ Strike. Oral History Society Journal, Spring (2017), 100-110.

Johnson, E. (2004). The memory of the World: museums in cinema. Vertigo, 2 (7), 8-9. http://www.vertigomagazine.co.uk/

Conference papers

Johnson, E. (2017). Asunder. In The Sound Of Memory Symposium: Sound-track / Sound-scape 2017, Whitechapel Gallery, London, 22 April 2017 - 24 April 2017. https://www.gold.ac.uk/calendar/?id=10688

Book chapters

Johnson, E. (2018). Alone together – documentary filmmaking and stories of well-being in outdoor spaces. In Coles, R., Costa, S., & Watson, S. (Eds.) Pathways to well-being in design. Examples from the arts, humanities and the built environment. (pp. 203-222). Abingdon: Routledge: https://www.routledge.com/Pathways-to-Well-Being-in-Design-Examples-from-the-Arts-Humanities-and/Coles-Costa-Watson/p/book/9780815346951

Johnson, E., & Ballin, D. (2017). Voices from the Strike. In Allsop, D., Stephenson, C., & Wray, D. (Eds.) Justice Denied : Friends, Foes and the Miners. (pp. 64-76). Merlin Press: http://www.merlinpress.co.uk/acatalog/JUSTICE-DENIED.html

Johnson, E. (2016). Alone Together, the Social Life of Benches: how filmmaking can help to tell detailed and nuanced stories about encounters, exclusion and wellbeing in outdoor spaces. In Coles, R., Costa, S., & Watson, S. (Eds.) Well-being 2016 : Co-creating Pathways to Well-being. (pp. 206-209). Birmingham: Birmingham City University: http://bcuwellbeing.co.uk/book-of-proceedings/

Johnson, E. (2016). Mid-Century Modern Living. In Neate, H., & Craggs, R. (Eds.) Modern Futures. (pp. 26-35). Devon: Uniformbooks: http://www.colinsackett.co.uk/modernfutures.php?x=38&y=5

Johnson, E. (2010). Article and interview. In Cut and splice: Transmission 2010. (pp. 28-35). London: Sound and Music: http://shop.soundandmusic.org/product/cut-splice-transmission

Johnson, E. (2010). Article and interview. In Cascella, D., & Farinati, L. (Eds.) Cut and splice: Transmission 2010. (pp. 28-35). London: Sound and Music: http://soundandmusic.org/projects/cut-splice-transmission-book

Ballin, D., & Johnson, E. (n.d.). Voices from the strike. In Allsop, D., Stephenson, C., & Wray, D. (Eds.) The Miners’ Strike: the people, the controversies and the consequences. London: Merlin Press: http://blanchepictures.com/echoes-of-protest/

Reports

Johnson, E., & Ballin, D. (2016). The People's Echo. Memories of the 1984-8 Miners' StrikeChristmas 2016. Artists and National Coal Mining Museum for England. http://echoes-of-protest.weebly.com/

Internet Publications

Johnson, E. (2019). Hull’s Ships in the Sky. [Online]. https://tribunemag.co.uk/2019/05/hulls-ships-in-the-sky

Artefacts

Johnson, E. (2020). Class Work Tribune. [Newspaper].

Johnson, E. (2020). Class Work Tribune. [Newspaper].

Johnson, E. (2020). Class Work Tribune. [Newspaper].

Exhibitions

Johnson, E. (2011). 'Teenage Wildlife'. Turner Contemporary, Margate. http://www.turnercontemporary.org/exhibitions/nothing-in-the-world-but-youth

Johnson, E. (2011). Obsession: work by Esther Johnson solo show. [Film, Photography, Radio Ephemera, Drawing, Postcards]. South Square Gallery, Bradford. http://www.southsquarecentre.co.uk/index.php?/centre/oct-11/

Webb, N. (2009). OTHERLINESS. [CD/DVD]. Vane Gallery Newcastle. http://www.hostoffice.org.uk/host9/

Johnson, E. (2010). Close-Up. [Photographic Banner]. Sheffield. http://www.blanchepictures.com/photography/closeup.html

Johnson, E. (2013). It’s Quicker By Hearse : The Tale of the Petitioning Housewife, the Protesting Schoolboy and the Campaign Trail Student. [Video; Audio; 3D artefacts]. National Media Museum, York. http://www.nrm.org.uk/PlanaVisit/Events/artgallery_beeching.aspx

Johnson, E., & Ballin, D. (n.d.). A share of a pensioner’s Christmas ‘Bonus’. [Exhibition · Including Audio Work, collection of photographs, archive items]. People's History Museum, Manchester. http://www.phm.org.uk/whatson/a-share-of-a-pensioners-christmas-bonus/

Johnson, E., & Ballin, D. (n.d.). A share of a pensioner’s Christmas ‘Bonus’. [Exhibition · Including Audio Work, collection of photographs, archive items]. People's History Museum, Manchester. http://www.phm.org.uk/whatson/a-share-of-a-pensioners-christmas-bonus/

Ballin, D., & Johnson, E. (2015). A share of a pensioner’s Christmas ‘Bonus’. [Show/Exhibition]. People's History Museum, Manchester. http://www.phm.org.uk/whatson/a-share-of-a-pension

Johnson, E., & Lillebæk Christensen, S. (2015). By which we live our lives. [Exhibition at Udstillingsstedet Sydhavn Station, Copenhagen]. Copenhagen.

Johnson, E., & Ballin, D. (2016). A share of a pensioner’s Christmas ‘Bonus’. [Exhibition and Opening Event]. National Coal Mining Museum for England. https://www.ncm.org.uk/whats-on/a-share-of-a-pensioners-christmas-bonus

Johnson, E. (2019). a ROLE to PLAY. [Film]. Quad, Derby. https://blogs.shu.ac.uk/c3riimpact/esther-johnson-role-to-play-quad-derby/2019-11-johnson-esther-a-role-to-play-quad-derby-1/

Media

Johnson, E. (2020). a ROLE to PLAY. Animate Projects

Johnson, E. (2017). Retreating the Line. [HD video installation with 4.0 surround sound]. http://www.fvu.co.uk/projects/fvu-touring-somewhere-becoming-sea

Johnson, E., Stanley, B., & Wiggs, P. (2017). Abstractions of Holderness. [HD Video]. https://homemcr.org/film/mind-run-basil-kirchin-story/

Johnson, E. (2016). Asunder. [Poetic Documentary Feature Film with Music]. Blanche Pictures / 14-18NOW / Sunderland Cultural Partnership: http://asunder1916.uk/

Johnson, E., & Ballin, D. (2015). A share of a pensioner’s Christmas ‘Bonus’ [audio documentary]. [Audio Documentary 26 mins]. n/a: https://soundcloud.com/blanche-pictures/a-share-of-a-pensioners-christmas-bonus/s-h3tb1

Johnson, E. (2015). A share of a pensioner's Christmas 'Bonus' [Photographic series]. [Photography]. http://blanchepictures.com/echoes-of-protest/

Johnson, E. (2015). Alone Together, the Social Life of Benches. [Video]. http://blanchepictures.com/alone-together/

Johnson, E. (2014). Plunge, Flip, Bump and Score. [Radio Documentary]. Radio Arts: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/radiotonic/plunge-flip-bump-and-score/5844286

Johnson, E. (2010). Analogue Kingdom. [Film]. Blanche Pictures: http://www.blanchepictures.com/films/analoguekingdom.htm

Johnson, E. (2008). Highway Home. [High-Definition Video]. http://www.blanchepictures.com/films/highwayhome.htm

Johnson, E. (2007). Yalda. [High-Definition Video]. Film London and BBC: http://www.blanchepictures.com/films/yalda.htm

Johnson, E. (2007). Celestial. [HD Video]. http://www.blanchepictures.com/films/celestial.htm

Johnson, E. (2006). Tune In. [16mm Film]. http://www.blanchepictures.com/films/tunein.htm

Johnson, E. (2004). A Street Named Humber. [Video]. http://www.blanchepictures.com/films/streethumber.htm

Johnson, E. (n.d.). Elevation. [Video]. Sheffield Contemporary Art Forum: http://www.blanchepictures.com/films/elevation.htm

Johnson, E. (n.d.). Elevation. [Video]. Sheffield Contemporary Art Forum: http://www.blanchepictures.com/films/elevation.htm

Johnson, E. (n.d.). The View From My Window Tells Me I'm Home. [Digital Video; Audio; maps]. http://www.blanchepictures.com/films/viewfrommywindow.htm

Musical compositions

Johnson, E. (2009). Repetune. [CD]. http://www.hostoffice.org.uk/host9/

Presentations

Johnson, E. (2019). Ships in the Sky. Presented at: Ships in the Sky, Hull History Centre, 2019

Johnson, E. (2019). Ships in the Sky Launch. Presented at: Ships in the Sky Launch, Hull Central Library, 2019

Johnson, E. (2019). Ships in the Sky Launch. Presented at: Ships in the Sky Launch, Hull Central Library, 2019

Johnson, E. (2019). Ships in the Sky Launch. Presented at: Ships in the Sky Launch, Hull Central Library, 2019

Johnson, E. (2018). Ships in the Sky Leeds Modernist Society Launch. Presented at: Ships in the Sky, Hull Central Library, 2018

Johnson, E. (2018). Asunder · conference presentation. Presented at: IOHA 2018 Memory & Narration : XX International Oral History Association Conference, University of Jyväskylä, Finland, 2018

Ballin, D., & Johnson, E. (2018). Echoes of protest : conference presentation. Presented at: IOHA 2018 Memory and Narration, Jyvaskyla, Finland, 2018

Johnson, E. (2018). Asunder · Conference Presentation. Presented at: MeCCSA 2018, London South Bank University, 2018

Johnson, E., & Rogaly, B. (2017). Alone together: the social life of benches. Presented at: Practices of belonging, practices of place Conversations in film & research 2017, Goldsmiths University of London, 2017

Johnson, E. (2016). Alone together, the social life of benches : how filmmaking can help to tell detailed and nuanced stories about encounters, exclusion and wellbeing in outdoor spaces. Presented at: Well-being 2016, Co-creating Pathways to Well-being, Birmingham City University, 2016

Johnson, E. (2012). Teenage wildlife : documented youth. Presented at: Rebels, Rioters, Revolutionaries : Third Annual Interdisciplinary Conference, Canterbury Christ Church University, 2012

Other publications

Johnson, E. (2012). Chemistry of Incidence. S1 Artspace, Sheffield: Sheffield Fringe: http://sheffieldfringe.com/programmes/year-2012/chemistry-of-incidence/

Johnson, E. (2011). 'Teenage Wildlife'. Margate, UK: Turner Contemporary: http://www.turnercontemporary.org/exhibitions/nothing-in-the-world-but-youth

Johnson, E., & Williams, D. (2009). Transfixed Motion | Transistory Still: SIA Gallery03 April 2009–18 April 2009 Curated by Esther Johnson and David Williams. Sheffield Institute of Arts Gallery: Sheffield Hallam University: http://www.shu.ac.uk/sia/gallery/events/event.html?id=44

Johnson, E. (2009). AXONOBUILD videotheque13 June – 28 August 2009. Sheffield: Site Gallery: http://www.sitegallery.org/archives/2428

Johnson, E. (2008). Teenage Wildlife Vidéothèque: Site Gallery 28 June-09 August 2008. Sheffield: Site Gallery: http://www.sitegallery.org/archives/1112

Other activities

- Member of the Oral History Society
- Member of Focal International (Federation of Commercial Audiovisual Libraries)

Postgraduate supervision

Director of Studies for:

- Azza El-Hassan 'The Void Project: Palestinian Modern Visual Narrative in the Absence of a Visual Archive.'
- Cathy Soreny 'Exploring representations of communication disabilities through co-created films and sound art.'
- Patrick Wichert 'Vestiges of Affect: A Photographic Re-calling of a Forced Migrant Community's Landscapes.'

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