Jill Johnson, installation artist

Jill Johnson "Valkyr"Jill Johnson explores cultural practices that people have continued without knowing why. Her exhibit at the NDSU Renaissance Gallery examines tribal nature and what remains in today's society.


"Ordinary Vikings"
Dates: January 6-28
Reception: January 13, 4-8 PM
Story Sharing: January 13, 7:30 PM
Location: Renaissance Gallery (650 NP Ave)

Public Lecture

Wednesday, January 19
Renaissance Hall Room 114
10:30-11:30 AM
Free and open to the public.

This activity is funded in part by a grant from the Lake Region Arts Council with McKnight Foundation funding.

Artist Statement

Jill Johnson "Four Directions"This project explores tribal nature and what remains in a modern age.  I use installation environments to explore large cultural questions.  For this installation, I wanted to know if we are still tribal 1000 years after the last Viking axe was thrown.

I started this project based on the work of authors Roberto Rodriguez and Patricia Gonzales who told me about Aztec practices that still exist.  They talked about the Aztecs taking two flint knives and making “X” motions against the sky.  One day, my neighbor, who was a Mexican-American lady from Texas, took two dinner knives from the drawer and made “X” motions against the sky before a severe thunderstorm.  I began to wonder if anything remained in us from the Viking culture.

Would this process be similar for Scandinavians?  I wanted to see if anything sparks in the DNA.  I wanted to know what had become of the Vikings---our ancestors---where did we go?  Did we go gently into that good night, did we become Lutherans? 
I began to explore the stories—the sagas---that told the way the world worked for the Vikings and earlier people. The figures are based on tribal stories from the Bronze and Iron Age, leading to the Viking age.  I wanted to explore if the tribal stories mirrored the real life stories of ordinary people.

I cast beeswax impressions of Swedish (and a Norwegian) Minnesota and North Dakota faces and attached them to tree “bodies” that I had been collecting over the past three years.  I matched some aspect of the real person’s life to some aspect of the cultural story he/she represents.

This past summer, I studied in Sweden and Denmark.  I was very surprised to see the same type of figures I was making were on display at the Lejre Historical park in Denmark.

This is neither a new age project or a project about religion but illustrates  the progression from the old stories and beliefs to the arrival of Christianity.  The stav of the runes becomes the stav of the pilgrim.   This installation is a cultural exploration about the stories and images that show our rich and deep heritage as Scandinavian people.   This installation goes a step further and reflects our distance from nature and our own cultural sense of self. 

The material choices are important.  I used Viking era-materials including beeswax, wood, and linen to express cultural belonging and different forms of plastic, the material of our modern world, to express separation.

This is a two-part installation---the outdoor installation was at the Agassiz Environmental Learning Center at Fertile, MN in October.  The indoor installation is at the NDSU Fine Arts Renaissance Gallery in Downtown Fargo and features tree images taken in Fertile.


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