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Accepting PhD Students

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Personal profile

Research interests

 I am a Northern Irish visual artist active since 1992 in the areas of site-responsive performance, drawing and video installations, which have been presented internationally in diverse contexts and interdisciplinary forms.  Projects are often developed with artist-run organisations and activist networks, and I have been involved ongoingly with some of these collectives as a co-founder, committee member or advisor.

Since 2001 I have developed a substantial body of practice-based research investigating issues of ‘contested space’. Initially this research was developed through an AHRC Fellowship post at the Ulster University, and involved exploring issues of ‘trauma of place’ through performative interventions, and establishing how collective memory connected to specific locations had become altered after violent events, creating layers of stigmatization, or conversely, commemoration. From 2009-2012 through a PhD research project, the emphasis became focused around concerns of testimony and the ‘theatre’ of justice. It was published in 2013, by LIT Verlag, (Germany), and maps out how the diverse evidence of human rights violations is primarily carried and conveyed through gestures: from the enacted staging of terrorist spectacles, the interpretive performances of legal testimony and the embodied gestures of protestors, to the responses of survivors sometimes existing on the cusp of invisibility and silence. The research sought to complicate the often, unquestioned notion that legal processes are comprehensive, authoritative and rational, whereas improvisation practices are inaccessible, irrational and unverified. Through comparative reframing, the research showed that improvisation is not disconnected from other social processes, but can be strategized and traced in ways that illuminate the equally flawed ephemeral and embodied processes at the core of legal practices. My current research approach is about evolving these core concerns of trauma and recovery towards questions of healing. Working collaboratively and through facilitated workshops, I am exploring the extent to which performance improvisation can be applied as a form of self-sensing/self-knowing that can extend our abilities of haptic intelligence and memory retrieval.

The performance actions that drive my research are experiential in nature, developed from the direct revelations of a body inhabiting space, light, motion and being stimulated by the behaviour of audiences. Each work is developed from carefully observing the tensions that exist between the history of a location, set in dialogue with the vibrancy and insistence of the passing moment. Therefore, the work is typified by an approach toimprovisatory action that accepts and reacts upon the unpredictable and the unforeseen as points of catalytic encounter.

Education/Academic qualification

Fine Art, PhD

1 Sep 201231 Dec 2099

Award Date: 1 Sep 2012

Fine Art, MA

1 Sep 199131 Dec 2099

Award Date: 1 Sep 1991


Dive into the research topics where Sandra Johnston is active. These topic labels come from the works of this person. Together they form a unique fingerprint.
  • 11 Similar Profiles
  • Wait it Out

    Johnston, S., 29 Aug 2019

    Research output: Non-textual formExhibition

  • To the Day

    Johnston, S., 4 Mar 2017

    Research output: Non-textual formExhibition

  • Border Crossings

    Brown, M., Gough, J., Johnston, S., Kneebone, S., Scarce, Y. & Thorpe, D., 16 Jul 2016

    Research output: Non-textual formExhibition

  • Difference Fostered

    Johnston, S. & Thorpe, D., 21 May 2016

    Research output: Non-textual formExhibition

  • A Perfect and Absolute Blank

    Lee, R., Borland, C., Arnfield, J. & Johnston, S., 16 Oct 2015, Gateshead : BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art.

    Research output: Other contribution

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