DeCordova awarded the 2010 Rappaport Prize to Liza Johnson for her narrative shorts and experimental videos that bridge the gap between art and cinema, documentary and narrative, and gallery and public art. With a background in fine art and cinema, Johnson's work inhabits a unique position between the two, ultimately extending the boundaries of both media. She combines public art and video installation with documentary, narrative, and abstract film to create what she terms "critical realism." In her recent work, the artist has collaborated with participants to produce films that are also collectively formed public art projects. By portraying the quiet moments of the actors own life, she creates a heightened realism heavily grounded in the imagery of the participant's environment.
In South of Ten (2007), Johnson's portrayal of the post-Katrina gulf coast, the artist worked with non-professional actors to develop a nuanced vision of the area's residents. The participants in the film act the events of their everyday life in a mode beyond direct interviewing and documentation. In 2009, Johnson released another collaborative film called In the Air. The film focuses on adolescents in a circus school in a dead-end Ohio county. Cultural historian Tavia Nyongo commended the film, commenting that it "grows in significance until it reached its final scene, one of pure cinema, that is equal parts High School Musical and Gus van Sant. In the Air leaves the emotions, just as the title promised, deliciously suspended."
"I am so flattered and honored that you've invited me to receive your prize. I'm really grateful to the Foundation and to the Museum, and I'm really just thrilled. It's also perfect timing. I have this year as my sabbatical from Williams College and so I have a big slate of new work and a feature film [Return] that I'm working on. It really makes a concrete, material difference to have your support as I go into a year where I can do that."
Liza Johnson is currently an associate professor of art at Williams College. She has exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN; Centre Pompidou, Paris, France; as well as New York, Berlin, and Rotterdam Film Festivals. Her 2009 film In the Air received the Vienna Short Film award in 2010 and was nominated for Best Short Film at the Berlin International Film Festival. Johnson has also curated museum exhibitions including "Mix-NY Queer Experimental Film and Video Festival" at the Anthology Film Archives and "Through Afghan Eyes: Culture in Conflict 1987-1992" at the Asia Society Museum in New York.
Liza Johnson, photo courtesy of the filmmaker.