FEAST PROJECT - Installation

Notes on an Indulgence (part 2)

Johnson enlarged the digital prints from scanned images of found photographs and exhibits these, stacked in horizontal registers – a monster storyboard; previsualisation without a connective infrastructure, only the performers’ share meta-concentration (the hidden internalized formation of a belief system) on the separation of blood from flesh that symbolises the sacrifice of the man-god. And, if there is no inward contemplation on the matter at hand, the direction of the child-bride’s gaze is oriented externally towards the surveillant authorities, the photographer and/or God. Thus the gallery space is activated variously by icy stares, knowing looks, fearsome glares, shock and awe. Some of the giant adolescents appear dwarfed by the event while others command the space, moving forward into the gallery, staking out an identity apart from authority and ritual. These confident subjects, monumentalised, are triumphant in their newly attained status as emergent sexual beings. However, many shrink from exposure, sinking back into the wall, willing and ready to hide behind the staged drapery, false scenery of a gothic church, or the spindly legs of a Victorian table. The exhibition reveals the fact that the childhood ritual is a tainted and knotty observance. Still, these images are starkly beautiful, and one cannot help but to fall in love with some of the young girls who appear haunted, noble, pure or immeasurably happy.”

Catherine Clinger, “Notes on an Indulgence”
(in Studio Space: Christy Johnson)
Vertigo Magazine, 3 (Summer 2007): 28-9.

This floor to ceiling installation plundered the Feast archive, a depository of more than 400 found First Communion commemorative pictures from Europe and the Americas (1877-1970). A selection of 108 images enlarged and printed in colour (digital photographic Lambda prints) were presented in a three-row grid format on four walls that literally enveloped and surrounded the viewer - an army of pre-teen girls dressed in white. The anonymous photographic portraits explore and critique the initiatory performance of gender in ritual contexts (both sacred and secular), particularly addressing notions of purity and contamination. These monumentalised images become celebratory markers of an emergent prepubescent sexuality and desire. The fetishised ‘virginal bride’ motif once safely and happily in place, now reaches the challenging excesses of the fantastically bizarre. The size is a renunciation of where these photographs were originally placed, and the spectator confronted by a re-viewing.  The sheer scale of the work exposes the physical nature of the First Communion event (both in the church and photographer’s studio) and sets out to deconstruct this important symbolic moment. Female sexuality is not located in a comfortable place … it is not clear where it is … it is not fixed. Confronting the images, two voices emerge in dialogue (wall texts) where amnesia and sharp recall explore the flux of denial and excess.

Christy Johnson
and 33 Confessors

  • Site-specific photographic installation, Oculorium Gallery
  • 108 - 91.4cm h x 61cm w
    Lambda prints on Fugi archival paper


Interview (PDF 40KB) with Curator Ciara Ennis (March 2007)
UCR California Museum of Photography