PROJECT 15: My Father's Murder

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M y F a t h e r ’s M u r d e r

November 4 - December 30, 2016

Jennings Firearms Inc. J-22 1056068, 2015, inkjet print, 24”x 35”

2000 Block of North New Jersey, 2015, inkjet print, 32”x 40”

M y F a t h e r ’s M u r d e r “Sons of suicides seldom do well. Characteristically, they find life lacking a certain zing. They tend to feel more rootless than most, even in a notoriously rootless nation. They are squeamishly incurious about the past and numbly certain about the future to this grisly extent: they suspect that they, too, will kill themselves.” ― Kurt Vonnegut, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater It started with a gun, or more accurately, a bullet. This bullet was shot by an anonymous someone in the middle of a Chicago night in 2014. The cracking, distinct sound was overheard by artist Jedediah Johnson, and would have perhaps been forgotten had he not discovered the subsequent morning that the bullet had been shot directly through his car windshield. Following the trajectory of the shot, he found a large caliber slug mushroomed in the steel of the back seat of his vehicle. Intrigued by the twisted metal, he knew he was on to something that would serve as artistic inspiration. However, Johnson also realized that he couldn’t just follow his curiosity and make artwork with bullets, however cool and interesting they were as distinct objects. He wondered, “What bullet would have meaning”? With this thought he realized, “the bullet that had killed a person,” such as the bullet that “took away his father”; this bullet was worthy of exploring. From this, Johnson embarked on the two-year quest that has resulted in the project and exhibition My Father’s Murder. Those familiar with Johnson’s previous work know that his series are the results of long, personal explorations. In the Makeout Project, which concluded in 2013, the artist put on brightly colored lipstick, and recorded the immediate after moment of various lip locking sessions. The resulting portraits provide an intimate, close look at both the photographed subject who has pigment smeared around their mouth, and the missing subject – the photographer himself. They ask the viewer to not only consider the immediate personal moment that preceded the portrait, but also the nature of intimacy itself. My Father’s Murder also offers the viewer many layers of meaning and routes for interpretation. Both Jedediah Johnson and Lester Johnson, the artist’s father, are largely absent from the work in the exhibition, yet omnipresent at the same time. The murder took place September 24, 1984, when the artist was just five years old. Johnson remembers being told about what happened days later by his pragmatic mother. Although divorced from Lester and already remarried, she sought to make the narrative more palatable for her young child. What stood out to Johnson from the short explanation of events was the articulated belief that the murder would not have occurred without the presence of alcohol. The young Jedediah’s reply to his mother about the murderer was, “Maybe he should only drink Pepsi.” Thus, Pepsi cans play a prominent role in the My Father’s Murder project. Shot through Pepsi cans have been painted with the artist’s untrained hand to recreate the era appropriate look from the 1980s. Eventually Johnson realized it was more appropriate to recreate the Budweiser logo onto the cans, as that was what he believed was the drink of choice of the murderer. In any case, the childlike painted cans mimic the simplified belief of the five-year old Jedediah, who believed Pepsi could have prevented the killing. Johnson purchased his first gun for this project. The artist had an idea of what kind of gun was used in the killing from court documents and from personal research. His understanding is that the weapon used was a small caliber, inexpensive handgun, also referred to under the dark, and racist moniker, “Saturday night special.” Spending about $90 for the weapon, and shocked that he could obtain it without any waiting period, Johnson set up a shooting gallery in his studio’s basement. Using stacks of magazines to buffer the bullets, the artist became intrigued by the objects he unintentionally created via shot through portraits from the magazines’ advertisements and content. Some of the most compelling images are incorporated into My Father’s Murder. Johnson also recognized that as a photographer, he regularly “shot” people, an act he likens to the ultimate act of possession, killing another human being. A selection of the models he has photographed is also on display as part of the project. Very few artifacts related to the murder currently exist. When Johnson told his mother he was going to pursue this project, she produced a VHS tape containing three newscasts covering the murder as well as a news article from the Indianapolis Star. To translate these items for the exhibition, Johnson decided to redact them, enacting through these media items his own early, patchy memories. The newspaper article, aptly titled from the above Vonnegut quote, Squeamishly Incurious, has been blacked out to remove all but the most critical pieces of information. The recorded news reports have been stripped down to sporadic sound bites interspersed with bits of Smurfs cartoons – the tape that was recorded over to capture the news reports. Denying the viewer twice, the screen on which the video plays is also turned to face the wall. In many ways My Father’s Murder is about the space between the memories of a child and the understanding of an adult. The project allowed Johnson to get to know his father better, learning about another person through their worst actions. More broadly, it asks an audience to consider all the victims of a crime and to think about their own personal and familial story and how they would confront their own past. Lastly, this project was a cathartic effort on the part of the artist to prove that he is not the same person as his father, a man who murdered a twenty-year-old woman on September 24, 1984.

Paula Katz, 2016

Untitled (rust & pink), 2015, paper and tempera, 20” x 30”

Six Pack, 2015, enamel and acrylic on aluminum, 36”x 5”

Artist Biography

Jedediah Johnson (b. 1979; lives in Indianapolis, Indiana.) In 1999 he moved to Los Angeles to attend the

University of Southern California’s school of Cinema-Television. Frustrated by the lethargy of the process of filmmaking, he took up photography in 1999. No longer interested by film or school, Johnson dropped out of film school in 2000. For the next 4 years he honed his craft by photographing parties and models in Southern California. After a six-month battle with cancer in 2005 Johnson decided to get serious about photography. He graduated with distinction with a BFA in photography from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California in 2009. In 2013 he received his MFA from The School of The Art Institute of Chicago. After a brief stint teaching at Wilbur Wright College and SAIC Johnson returned to Indianapolis to begin work on his new familial history project, My Father’s Murder.

Curator Biography

Paula Katz (b. 1980; lives in Indianapolis, Indiana) is executive director of the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art (iMOCA). She previously served as the Director and Curator of the Herron Galleries at the Herron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis, Indiana, overseeing a diverse exhibition program in contemporary arts and related educational programming. Before her tenure at Herron she worked as the Assistant Curator of Art at the Columbus Museum in Columbus, Georgia. With expertise in contemporary art in all media, she has particular interest in photographic history and techniques, community engaged art and collaborative practices. Since 2006, Katz has curated, administered and jurored over 200 exhibitions throughout the Midwest and Southeastern United States. Katz holds a BA in Art History from Tulane University, an MPhil in Modern and Contemporary Art and Design from the University of Glasgow and a MBA and Certificate in Social Entrepreneurship from the Kelley School of Business, Indiana University.

Checklist Squeamishly Incurious, 2016, screen print, 20”x 30” Untitled (black & red), 2015, paper and tempera, 20” x 30” Untitled (rust & red), 2015, paper and tempera, 20” x 30” Untitled (rust & pink), 2015, paper and tempera, 20” x 30” Untitled (rust & pink), 2015, paper and tempera, 20” x 30”
 Untitled (black), 2016, paper and tempera, 20” x 30” Untitled (pink & grey), 2016, paper and tempera, 20” x 30”
 Untitled (red, pink & grey), 2016, paper and tempera, 20” x 30”
 Untitled (grey & red), 2016, paper and tempera, 20” x 30” Untitled (red), 2016, paper and tempera, 20” x 30” Once in the Face, 2015, inkjet print, 24” x 35” If The Gun Hadn't Jammed, 2015, inkjet print, 24” x 35” Exactly What I Wanted to Do, 2016, inkjet print, 24” x 35” If I Can't Have Her, 2016, iInkjet print, 24” x 35” I Don’t Remember Any of It, 2016, inkjet print, 24” x 35” I Thought You Said You Wanted to Know Something.
No. I Know Everything. (The Second Photo I Ever Took of my Father, 2012), 2016, inkjet print, 4”x 6” California Is Going to Sink (The First Photo I Ever Took of My Father, 2000), 2016, inkjet print, 4”x 6” Father’s Day 1982, 2016, inkjet print, 5”x 12” Raven Arms MP-25 355270, 2015, inkjet print, 35”x 24” Jennings Firearms Inc. J-22 1056068, 2015, inkjet print, 24”x 35” Just Drink Pepsi, 2016, Installation (enamel and acrylic on aluminum, wood, iron oxide powder) Six Pack, 2015, enamel and acrylic on aluminum, 36”x 5” 2000 Block of North New Jersey, 2015, inkjet print, 32”x 40” 23rd and Illinois, 2015, inkjet print, 32”x 40” If The Beginning Is Zero, 2016, Installation This Bud’s For You, 2016, enamel and acrylic on aluminum, 2.5”x 5”, edition of 108

Zephyr Gallery Artist Partners

Artist Board

Patrick Donley Ken Hayden Peggy Sue Howard Chris Radtke

Matt Meers Robert Mitchell Joel Pinkerton Reba Rye

PROJECT 15: My Father’s Murder Paula Katz Jessica Oberdick Robert Mitchell Chris Radtke Peggy Sue Howard Patrick Donley

Curator Project Manager Graphic Design Exhibition Co-Coordinator Exhibition Co-Coordinator Exhibition Preparator

Image Credit

Front Cover: Once in the Face, 2015, inkjet print, 24” x 35”

The mission of Zephyr Gallery is to serve as a platform to incubate, advocate, and facilitate innovative ideas in art and artistic practices in the region. In 2014, Zephyr launched an ongoing Project series with curated proposal-based exhibitions as well as collaborations with universities, colleges, and cultural institutions. Project 15: My Father’s Murder is the fifteenth exhibition in this series.







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