Johanna Thompson: Performance Artist

Spotted in: Downtown SF

Occupation: Performance Artist

What are you up to today?

I'm going to celebrate Chinese New Year at the Embarcadero. I'm meeting up with friends there.

Anything in particular you're planning to do there?

Just eat! We're going to a place called Crystal Jade. Apparently it's really good, and since they're Chinese I'm sure they know what they're doing.

Are you from the area?

I used to live here, but right now I'm here to escape the Berlin winter. I'm currently stuck in Berlin—I would love to move back here. I used to go to school here.

Are you staying with family while you're out here?

I'm currently staying with friends because my family lives in the Midwest, which is not escaping the winter! [laughs]

So your family moved from Berlin to the Midwest?

Actually, they transitioned from the Midwest to Frankfurt, and then I moved to San Francisco and later New York, but in the end I ended up in Berlin because I studied art, and that was the new hip art place. It's alright there, but it's better here! [laughs]

What's your occupation?

I'm an artist.

And what do you do specifically?

Performance, mainly. It's performance art, so it depends. It's usually very site-specific, and it's not dance or anything so I don't entertain anyone or seek to entertain. It comes from the visual arts. But I do use my body, or I use the situation.

Any inspirations for your work?

I do like Marcel Duchamp, and I think Philip K. Dick might be a big inspiration actually! The way he thinks, rather than what he does, obviously. I'm not a writer.

What in particular do you like about the way he thinks?

I think he can see beyond things. I think he can see beyond realities, and I'm really interested in that. I'm really interested in uncovering what we can't see, what's not obviously there.

How did you get started doing what you do?

I escaped Germany earlier because of the weather, and just kind of ended up at the San Francisco Art Institute. I thought, maybe I want to be a painter—but I realized that's not really what I want to do. I discovered performance and video and conceptual art and thought it was just vastly more interesting, to me anyway. So I kind of got stuck doing that.

What's a current obsession?

Chess. In a way it's the opposite of art because you immediately see the consequences of what you do. It's very mathematical. There's something very intriguing about that. There's a safety about that. You know if you lose, it's because you fucked up. There's not much chance involved. You can also see that the more effort you put into it, the better you play. But there's also a limit, because you have to deal with your own limitations—of focus and you know, your brain.

So is that something you've been doing a lot of lately?

Yeah, I joined a chess club and I've been playing a lot.

Did someone teach you how to play or did you learn on your own?

In my mid-twenties a friend of mine taught me at a bar—up on Hyde Street, I think. So I learned pretty late. But I was fascinated with it because you know, usually you play a game and you lose, you win. But then I was just losing! And I understood how to move the pieces, so I got really obsessed with it! Because after that, [laughs] I did want to win! I think it also helps you to structure your thoughts. It's very much like life, chess is.

Have you gotten any good advice lately?

I think all the advice you need for life you get from rap songs. It's very down-to-earth advice. Like if you listen to good rap, you think yeah, that's exactly how it is.

What artists do you think tell it like it is?

Now it sounds like I'm totally mainstream but I've been saying that Run the Jewels is brilliant from the start. El-P and Killer Mike I think are just wonderful. The music, the lyrics, the production—everything. They're really good.

Is there anything you miss from back home?

Not currently, I would have to say. Maybe the non-alcoholic beer. There's a good range of non-alcoholic beer in Germany. In Germany you can actually get stuff that tastes really good. I don't like to drink but I do like to drink something that's not so sweet, because sodas are really sweet.

Do you have any in particular that you recommend?

Erdinger Alkoholfrei. That's probably my favorite.

I wanted to ask you about what you're wearing—I love all the colors!

Thank you! Oddly enough, I just got these sunglasses down the street at Rims & Goggles last year. It's on Sutter, I believe. And now they have optical lenses. I'd been trying them on for two years in a row because I come here a lot, and I thought, this is getting ridiculous—I just have to buy them. This dress I actually got in Berlin, it was a pretty standard store—H&M I think. The jacket is COS, I don't know if you have those here.

I think there's an online store for the U.S. Is that a branch of H&M?

It is, it's like their designer line.

The bag is cute too!

The bag is from here, it's from Brooklyn Industries. I get around. [laughs]

You can check out Johanna's personal website here.

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