Dominic Johnson is a Professor of Performance and Visual Culture in our department of Drama. In his profile below, he discusses his research which engages with LGBTQIA+ histories and practices, his work with living artists and his connection with the Pathology Museum.
How long have you worked at Queen Mary?
I’ve been at Queen Mary as a permanent member of staff since 2006. I worked here for a year before that whilst I was finishing my PhD at the Courtauld Institute of Art on the artist Jack Smith, who was a pioneer in queer theatre and performance art in New York in the 60s and 70s.
Could you tell us about your involvement in LGBT+ History month?
My research engages with LGBTQIA+ histories and practices. I’ve been documenting and historicising the relationship between performance and visual culture and sexual practices and sexual identities. I’ve been looking at artists who identify as LGBTQIA+ and whose work is critical to histories of sexuality and sexual practices. An example of this is working on an artist who uses S&M practices in his work and thinking about the ethics and politics of trafficking a sexual practice into a performance.
I’ve also examined how representations of sexual practices invite contact with the law. For example, in my book, Unlimited Action: The Performance of Extremity in the 1970s, there is a chapter on Genesis P-Orridge who was arrested and convicted for indecency for producing and disseminating collages featuring the Queen and commercially-produced pornography.
Describe your average day/week
I teach the bulk of the week so I am busy with my students. I set up and convene the MA Live Art and I also run postgraduate taught programmes in Drama.
I also do research, which might include working directly with artists for example through studio visits, as well as work in archives and arts organisations. I’m a co-founder of the Sexual Cultures Research Group and we have put on some really exciting events. I’m also on the board of directors of the Live Art Development Agency.
In July I’ll be taking over as Head of Drama, so that will be a big change.
What’s the best thing about your job?
I enjoy working with students, especially the MA students as they really focus in on their aspirations. Teaching works best when it is an active co-creation of knowledge. When a class goes well, you go in and propose something you haven’t fully articulated and through the process of presenting and discussing it, something profound might come about.
I feel really privileged as a researcher as I get to work with and spend time with artists. For example, I recently worked with the artist Skip Arnold in Marseilles. It was really exciting to spend time with an artist who has been making important work for a really long time and to collaborate together: we ended up organising an event together in London at the Live Art Development Agency – I’m also publishing a journal article on his work later this year. I find that exciting, thrilling and joyful. I’ve had similar encounters with a lot of different artists and I get to see performances all around the world: I recently went on research trips to Mexico City, Los Angeles and Tokyo.
What do you see as your role in helping the University achieve its Strategy 2030?
The key strategies in, but also around, the published one have to be about continuing to increase Widening Participation. Universities such as this one need to encourage diversity – especially in terms of race and ability – amongst its staff and students. The other strategy I had a hand in shaping was the Arts and Culture Strategy, which runs until 2022 and is about encouraging wellbeing through the arts, enabling access to the arts, and how it enhances life for all students – and not just those studying courses in the arts and humanities.
What’s your favourite place on any of our campuses?
My favourite place is the Pathology Museum. I’ve done a few events with Carla Valentine, the Assistant Curator, including giving a lecture, and taking students there on a second year drama module to learn about the archives. I’ve been working with the Queen Mary archives to acquire live art collections. We have recently acquired archives for Ian Hinchliffe and Jon John. Jon John’s archive includes huge amounts of blood-covered canvases, piercing instruments, and other surprising materials that remind me of the specialist artefacts in the Pathology Museum.
If you could tell a prospective student one thing about Queen Mary, what would it be?
It’s in the East End and that is really crucial. It is such a rich and diverse environment. Everything is on our doorstep, especially in terms of performance and live art. You can go to the Whitechapel Gallery down the road and access gems such as Live Art Development Agency in Bethnal Green, Toynbee Studios in Aldgate, and Acme Studios across the Mile End Park.
Do you have any unusual hobbies, pastimes outside of work?
I box at a gym called Blok in Clapton twice a week. I’ve been boxing for a couple of years. I just went to a class one day and totally loved it and I feel like it’s great to do a form of exercise where you are constantly learning – at the same time it clears your mind so intensely of all the things I otherwise have to worry about. It feels deeply primal.
Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
I published a book in 2015 called The Art of Living which included long interviews with 14 artists or groups. I would invite them because the conversations I had with them were totally thrilling and enjoyable. Three of them have passed away since – each of them were friends – so it would be really nice to talk to them again.