This is a concept video piece I made with a friend of mine in our company Dawn of Man Productions, it was shot in two location in New Jersey, and then projected from the roof of a car in NYC.

“Floating” is an 11 minute concept film created by Dawn Of Man.

The film was projected without sound for 5 nights at 5 different public locations throughout New York City.

“Hands” is written and performed
by Four Tet.
©Domino Records

About Michael Johnson

michaeljohnson.studio thewindandthestones.com viewfromaburrow.com


  1. Zach


    This is a fascinating piece. I’d be very interested to hear some of the technical details about the filming of the videos as well as the different projections. One of the first things that came to mind when i watched the video above was “What did they film this with?” (both the projected videos and the footage of people reacting to the videos in NYC.)

    As for the piece itself, if i can hazard an interpretation, my first thoughts centered around the relation between the two videos in which i saw, on the left, a passing of the individual from a solitary or isolated state into, on the right, one of collectivity within a shared space (Sloterdijk’s spheres come to mind.) Maybe this is a fairly rudimentary interpretation, but with the city as your projection location, an immense space of forced community and closeness which nonetheless generates feelings of isolation and disconnectedness, it seemed that the relation between the two videos contained a poignant reflection on the complicated nature of existence within metropolitan centers such as NYC. Following this train of thought the videos also seem to pose a very pointed question to those who stop and observe: are you able to not only conceptualize this dual nature of existence, specifically within a space like NYC, but to then make the passage from the one to other? That was an admittedly clumsy attempt, but the piece very much lends itself to theoretical musings. But even before such reflection it presents an existential quandary through a poetic use of imagery. Great work.


    • Zach –

      Funny you should comment on this piece, because I was just talking with the Dawn of Man crew about a new project, your comment inspires me to put it higher on the priority list…

      As far as the technicals of this go – there aren’t any tricks really – the concrete tunnel is a real tunnel that runs under a road, the people literally floated out of it – the water was shallow enough to stand in so we had a mini floaty thing attached to some fishing wire, each person laid on the floaty thing in the tunnel and I pulled them out with the fishing line so the floating seemed somewhat graceful – we got the camera overhead by using long pieces of wood to bridge the gap between the two sides of the water – the shots seem seamless, but we just didn’t move the camera and cut between each person.
      On the right frame it was a different location – a reservoir – there was a high bridge that we set the camera on to shoot from overhead as each person floated – the only trick with this shot is that not everyone was actually floating at the same time, we cut and pasted into a single frame to make it so the frame fills up and flows with bodies.

      I think your interpretation is as good as anything that can be said about the piece itself – the entire poetics of concept centers on the transition from solitary to collective – some of the Sloterdijk theories attach really well – the tunnel works as a metaphor is certain ways – the route away from a shared space of intimacy in darkness/womb into a larger sphere shared by mass, multiplicity and collective – the perspective we see as viewers goes through the same transition between portrait and crowd, identity and indistinguishablity. We really liked that the image was simultaneously simple, compelling, and far-reaching – the inspiration for it sort of came out of nowhere I remember, fully-formed, spoken almost immediately, and then carried out without much editing. It was one of those beautiful ideas that seemed to unfold itself naturally.

      What you say next I’m surprised and impressed by – the consciousness of the city as space in which the video exists – at the time of this video (several years ago now) – I think we were operating sort of intuitively or without full coherence of exactly what we were doing in this way, it was more just getting a kick out of putting our art on the Guggenheim and seeing how people reacted. With the project we are working on now – the thought of video/space/architecture interaction is sort of in the foreground – purposeful selection of space, design of image for space, preconception of how the image will work with space/architecture. So, I guess what I’m trying to say, is your analysis is right on point in terms of how this type of art functions, but this is something that took time to become conscious – at first it was just, lets see if we can put a video on a building – now it’s what video will work on what building and why. There’s a vast horizon of possibility with this type of work that hasn’t even begun to be explored yet – the transformation of space and signification of space and symbols – perhaps for another discussion…

      Viewer reaction is out of our control, which is maybe what makes it so interesting – as you mention, there is a sort of reflection that is created in the city space between this particular piece and who stopped to look at it – anyone who stopped and looked became suddenly isolated, and then returned to the crowd. This is a really cool thought, but not something that I can take any credit for in terms of preconceiving before projecting. Art is interesting in this way – there are periods of unreflective intensity, and then reflection – the reflection after the intensity is what guides the next movement – then something new is learned in the movement that explains it retroactively, but was inconceivable before the action. It’s a strange sort of thing that makes time appear to move backwards in certain intervals.

      Anyway, as usual, your insights are on point and thought provoking – I’d like to read some of your writings, do you have anything online I can access?

      Always a pleasure, let’s keep the dialogue going…

      – Michael

  2. Zach

    Audience response becomes very interesting when a work is out in the open of a public space as opposed to a controlled space such as a gallery or a museum. There’s also the fundamental element of chance with this type of work, because you’re not really assured an audience, even though you can more or less take for granted that at least a few people will stop for a moment or two at the very least. The even greater unknown, i think, is the type of audience you end up getting, as well as the way it varies from person to person: are they interested for an extended period of time or do they simply acknowledge the piece somewhat dismissively and keep walking? This is in part what fascinates me about this type of work, the potential for meeting people on wildly different and varying terms depending upon each and every person. The gallery and museum spaces are so overly familiar and, too often, for most people i think, they communicate an air of expectation and self-importance: this is a space for art and art only; everything in this space has been deemed art by those with more knowledge than yourself and as a result you’re expected to show reverence. And despite the increasing efforts of curators and museum directors to curb this type of response from the lay viewer, it seems that this is the sort of image that popular culture has grabbed hold of in regards to art museums and contemporary art galleries. Which, to return to it again, is why i think the type of work you’re doing in the video above seems to be far more proactive than simply trying to utilize the already familiar aesthetic spaces.

    As a painter, though, i’d be interested to get your take on this type of problematic situation, at least as i see it: painting as an overly familiar form and means for “making it new” again, or if such a thing is even possible with a form as historically familiar as painting is. Coming from an art history background i thought about these types of questions in far more dramatic a way then they probably warranted, and for a time i entertained the “painting is dead” narrative, which, in certain respects i do still think is accurate just not in as severe a manner as reading certain scholarship will try and convince you of.


    There’s not much by way of writing that i can make available, as i don’t keep a blog or anything like that. What i can show you, if you’re interested, is a short five minute film that i made for Richard Dienst’s class this past semester. I can attach it in an e-mail if that’s alright with you.

    • yes, definitely send an email, would love to check out the film: michaelburrisjohnson@gmail.com

      what you say about spaces for painting is a bit troublesome – although the familiarity of the aesthetic space of the museum or gallery often seems redundant (I’ve had some nauseating and ultimately saddening trips to MoMa), at it’s best its a free space open to the public – clean, quiet, and intimate – the Gagosian is one of my favorites in NY. There may be a sense of air, or importance, but the only time I make the trip out to see a show is if it’s a show that I already want to see. It becomes a sort of religious journey to see the painting, but this I often like. I think what’s most important is separating seeing a painting from paying a fee – the connection between art and money is a very dangerous one – and I suppose the “free” spaces run a similar risk in a more concealed way. What I mean is: if the only paintings that get seen are the paintings being bought by the very rich, painting becomes something for the rich, made for the rich, bought by the rich, shown for the rich, etc – the values that are expressed reinforce the values of the very rich – often things like superiority, detachment, entitlement – check out some of Emil Lukas’ larvae paintings, they’re selling for pretty high prices, I was initially grabbed by them, but after thinking about what they show I realized they are desperate death crawls of maggots – I thought about who would want to look at life from this angle – and it suddenly made sense that the very wealthy see themselves in a position to look down upon the maggots of society – and so we see the spiral between art and money. Emile Lukas is an artist I’m interested in, so I don’t mean to take anything away from him, there are other interesting angles from which to view his work, this is just an on-hand example for our topic now – the danger is in what gains traction, if Lukas opens the gate to using the death of a creature for an expression that sells, where does it lead to?

      What I’ve been thinking about lately is the contemporary experience of art outside the galleries and museums. Many of the artists I discover happens from seeing images online, or reading about them in theoretical essays, interacting with their art as an approach and a thought process. The discovery of artists I admire right now hasn’t happened from seeing them in a gallery – although I think that it’s necessary that their art be in a gallery, so that the journey to it can be made. I think that there is an opening right now for the type of art that is an experience as much intellectual as it is visual, and of course emotional – art as a sort of corona of experience, the outer layer being the initial emotional pull, the instinctive draw to the art, seeing the image online, in a magazine, etc, the next being the intellectual experience, this would be reading the artist’s writings or writings about the artist, looking at the art through different lens of thought/philosophy, seeing how well the art works or stops working – and then finally making the trip to see the art, the journey toward the thing itself, the heart of the experience. The art has to continue spinning as one moves through the layers.

      I guess this isn’t anything new, but maybe just a reversal of history in the sense that traditionally art was discovered in the gallery or salon and then one would move outward, I think in our world right now there is a confusion because the movements aren’t happening in the traditional ways, even though the traditional spaces are still functioning. So I’m not sure, I think what feels dead is the experience of walking through a museum and looking at images, the artistic canon, old ways of interaction, etc – painting is in a weird stage because there is everything happening at once – its like anything goes, but not much works. What has to happen is for a new way of thinking and experiencing art to gain traction, this can happen in the abstracted space outside the gallery and therefore also avoid the dangers of being filtered through wealth, a sort of reversal of power in which the gallery is then stormed from the outside, the flow of power moves in and not out of the gallery – I know this sounds basic and common sense, but it’s really difficult to locate a pulse right now, (although just this week I discovered Bracha Ettinger and lost sleep over it, I feel like her matrixial border space theories work really well with some of my work, particularly the immersion paintings of Deep Sea and In Utero, I just ordered her book but haven’t read it yet, so not much more to say, just that I was really excited about it) – but because painting is such a material thing, there is only one painting, it is a difficult transition into the technological world, what has to happen is that art has to be made as a practice that supports a way of thinking, something that can pull you in from a distance and inspire, there has to be more entryways into the art than the pure visual spectacle – or rather, art has to start being made with this sort of consciousness.

      This is getting long, there is definitively more to be said, maybe this scratches the surface, I don’t know –

      Send over that email! Looking forward to checking out your project

      – Michael

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