Constructed as a maze-like environment for all the senses, Within Our Gates integrates tropical plants such as palms, dracaenas, ficus, and ferns, with sculptural elements, moving image, sound, and everyday objects to immerse the viewer in the artist’s poetic manifestation of a world where fictions and facts, histories and speculations converge. His first project in Russia, this is also the largest work the artist has ever made.
Johnson first visited Moscow in early 2015, when the Museum was under construction. He was visually inspired by the Soviet Modernist architecture—originally built in 1968—in transition. This triggered memories of a visit to Turks and Caicos, where unfinished edifices were overrun by the tropical landscape. Says Johnson: “It was when the place was full of anticipation, but the buildings were never finished and it looked to me like this incredible, deformed dream. There are a lot of different ways to interpret that, but it's the contradictions that I keep thinking about in relation to the new work I’m making for Moscow, which will keep growing and changing over the time it is on show.”
Describing his new work as “a brain,” the artist has drawn on both “high” and popular culture for his source material. For example, influences and objects include artist Sol LeWitt’s three-dimensional minimalist structures from the 1960s; shea butter (a popular hair and skin product from Africa); Russian rugs; the Moscow Botanical Gardens; books by W.E.B Du Bois, James Baldwin, and Frantz Fanon (among other authors); as well as films such as Rocky IV, Woody Allen’s Manhattan, Fellini’s 8 1/2 and Oscar Micheaux’s 1920’s silent film Within Our Gates, which also lends the commission its title. Together these incongruent building blocks give form to a stream of consciousness that offers a different perspective on cultural symbols and artifacts. Transcending worn clichés of class, nation, and race, the sculpture invites viewers to prioritize intuition and affinity as a mode of experience.
The installation of Within Our Gates will start two weeks prior to the launch of the commission and will be publicly visible throughout, enabling visitors to witness the process of creating the work. From the launch onward an 11-hour film screening, curated by Johnson, will be accessible daily inside the installation. A book documenting the process of the commission will be published in English in September 2016.
The project is supported by Hauser & Wirth.