What are You Starting?: A Groundbreaking Ceremony

As a 2015 recipient of an Art Space Is Your Space residency award at Wave Pool Gallery, Johnson used soil as a starting point for a series of events, exhibition, and performative lecture.

Events: Together with prison abolition organizer Lizzie Anderson and the Camp Washington Community Board, Johnson organized What Are You Starting?: A Groundbreaking Ceremony in the Camp Washington Urban Farm. Participants broke ground in the Camp Washington Urban Farm with a ceremonial shovel while declaring what they wanted to start doing, making, or thinking. After three holes were made, peach trees were planted and certificates stating what participants broke ground for were available to commemorate the moment. The first two ceremonies were completed by River City Correctional Center residents. River City is a local alternative to prison with the primary purpose of rehabilitation for non-violent, felony offenders and is located next door to the Camp Washington Urban Farm. The last ceremony was for the larger community. A compilation of all the ground-breaking proclamations can be found here.


Following the last ceremony, David A. Singleton, an attorney and Executive Director of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center (OJPC), spoke about the need to work across the political divide to reduce the prison population in the state and the nation. The OJPC is a non-partisan, nonprofit, public interest law office based in Cincinnati whose purpose is to reform Ohio’s justice system.



Performative Lecture: Johnson presented a performative lecture and experimental video work that investigates Cincinnati's Camp Washington neighborhood and Georgia's Providence Canyon and the limits of metaphor. Camp Washington was the site of the first Ohio State Fair in 1850 and among the events that took place during this inaugural affair was an essay contest on the topic "Improving the Soil." At the same time, erosion, spurred by poor farming practices and the exploitation of land and people through slavery, was forming an enormous web of gullies in the Southern United States. Today, 1,000 acres of these human-made ravines comprise Providence Canyon State Park, nicknamed 'Georgia's Little Grand Canyon,' and listed as one of the state's 'Seven Natural Wonders.'

Exhibition: Wave Pool Gallery contained ephemera from the weekend's groundbreaking ceremonies and a text piece reading:

This is something that you can do while you are standing here, waiting for the next thing to happen. Imagine that you’re in that field that you visited recently. The one that was so big you could almost look out and not see the downtown. Or just find yourself in your backyard or in front of the small square of soil on the sidewalk near your apartment. As long as there is dirt around, it’ll do. The shovel you’re holding is your dad’s or your girlfriend’s or you just bought it from the hardware store. Again, the details don’t matter too much. Before you break ground, figure out what you are starting, what change is going to take place - right after the upcoming steps - that you would like to commemorate. Point the shovel straight down and let it rest on the surface. Lift your left foot and put it on the top of the spade and push. Rock the handle towards you and pull up. Cradle the soil for a moment while you look at the space you just made.