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HARDBACK RE/Search #6/7: Industrial Culture Handbook Excerpt: Johanna Went

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R/S: How do you prepare for each show? I get the impression it takes months . . .

JOHANNA: It doesn’t take that long. It depends. I gather up a lot of stuff, things, junk, articles, just items. You know: styrofoam, plastic, cardboard, clothes, shoes, food things—anything you can think of. Kotex, sandwiches, tools—anything. And then I just kind of think about different things: what I dream about, what I see everyday, or somebody I’ll be fascinated with, and somehow I’ll use them in my show. Or a movie that I saw—all these kinds of things affect me.

And then when I put together my show, I try not think a lot. I just glue together and paint things and make things look like something that I like! Then I take all of these things to where I’m going to do a show, and the musicians come and play whatever it is they want to play, and then I sing anything that comes out of my mouth. There’s lots of blood and messy things and then I fall down and it’s all over.

R/S: Well, you pay a lot of attention to details—I remember at one show, you had a little naked baby doll (it was just a small part of your costume)—you couldn’t even really see it across the stage, yet you’d glued pubic hair on it.

JOHANNA: You saw it! That was just a little joke for myself. I like to give myself little jokes; I like to entertain myself.

R/S: At the On Broadway show, you became a huge Statue of Liberty . . . That suddenly started to spew blood over the audience—

JOHANNA: That was a really hard show for me—

R/S: Oh yes, your sister had suddenly died.

JOHANNA: I’d made the Statue of Liberty, the whole costume, and when I brought it up to San Francisco I asked Mark Pauline if he could do something to it to make it spit blood. He hooked up this pump and it was really great—I wasn’t sure if it was going to work and then all of a sudden it started squirting blood into the audience—I couldn’t believe it. It worked really good! Just what I wanted.

R/S: I got some on my coat and it wouldn’t come off. Was it stage blood?

JOHANNA: It’s a secret old family recipe. Sometimes if you wash things it comes out but sometimes it doesn’t. I can’t help it. One time somebody asked me to pay their cleaning bill, but I just said Fuck You.

R/S: What was the most extreme performance you ever did?

JOHANNA: Most extreme? I don’t know—I used to do a lot of street performances that in a way were more extreme than what I do now, just because of the different environments. Probably the most extreme—at least the one that everybody always talks about—was when I did a performance with a dead cat. Probably because the cat was dead and people were upset because they thought I killed it. Which I didn’t—I do not kill cats. But I don’t know, because I have trouble remembering performances . . .

R/S: Because you kind of go into a trance during them?

JOHANNA: Right after the performances I can’t remember anything, and then I asked what happened—people tell me different things that happened. Sometimes when I clean up the stuff I can kind of remember. It’s really hard to remember.

 

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