Walker’s experiential art involves transforming neglected spaces. For example, one Night Gardener project has Walker chalking flower petals around dark globs of gum on the sidewalk – turning an invisible part of the landscape into a whimsical escape.
For KUT News, Cathy Byrd spoke with Walker to talk about his love for public space.
KUT: You thrive in public space. You’ve created projects for First Night and other outdoor installations, and curated “Play Me I’m Yours” with the support of Art Alliance Austin a few years ago. What draws you to public art?
Johnny Walker: Probably because I spend most of my time in public spaces. I’ve worked in galleries. I’ve worked in museums. I’ve exhibited my art in those places, but most of my time is spent in public. There’s no set framework around it so the context that it’s within reshapes the work and people’s interactions with it change the work all the time in unexpected and really exciting ways.
KUT: This year’s project is very public.
Walker: The project is called The Night Gardener, and it’s a clandestine gardening operation. What I hope to do is transform neglected or overlooked areas into places of contemplation and beauty. It’s a way of looking at your community and seeing potential in places you may have overlooked.
KUT: Could you describe how the gardens might look and feel?
Walker: I don’t think about building gardens in the traditional sense of bringing in plants. Even though I do use some traditional techniques from traditional gardening, usually I try to work with the situation and the ambiance that is already there. Often, I work with materials that come from the place on site. I work with color. I work with light. I work with wind. Mostly, when I think about work, I think about conditions. I’m kind of choreographing a situation. I don’t know what the actors or the public will do, but I sort of set up the stage and let it unfold.
KUT: Will you be doing all your gardening at night?
Walker: It usually has to do with the nature of the space. I work at night because I like to move through the city at night. I’ll be working on three different gardens – two in downtown and one in north-central Austin.
KUT: Are there particular landscapes that draw you besides the parking lot?
Walker: No, I never know what’s going to draw me next. Sometimes, I’ll be moving through an alley and I’ll hear this sound. There’s a church downtown that plays a recording to keep the birds off the building. They have this squawking sound that goes off every four and a half minutes. I’m fascinated by it. I go down there and I don’t know what I would do with it, but it certainly is a fertile place to work.
KUT: Why do you think making these gardens is important?
Walker: It’s important for me as an artist because it keeps me curious. I work as an artist because I like to ask questions. I like to learn about places and I like to do it in a physical way by moving through space.
Fusebox Festival takes place from April 17-28.