Lineage. It’s a word that evokes an almost tangible perception of our past, a straight line connecting us to our biological and cerebral past. For most cultures, it determined a person’s status, occupation, even worldview. As humans, we share a collective lineage dating back millions of years, generation by generation, winding a tale so complex and vast that there is and always will be more to discover, more to glean from the clues left by our ancestors. Genealogy, anthropology, are our efforts to access the time capsule of human knowledge, experience, and through an intimacy with that past, find insight into the present – into ourselves, even. In tracing back the ticks on a timeline, the mistakes, the bright spots of hope, we discover we are part of a stand as long as history itself. It is with this invisible bond in mind that Doug Johnston begins each new piece of his work. From the simplest of materials, Doug constructs much more than bags, buckets, and bowls – he connects history with imagination, translating a single line into a multidimensional view of time and space.
Doug began the trajectory of his current work through during a grad program at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. He had recently completed a degree in Architecture and Studio Art, and was attracted to Cranbrook’s unconventional curriculum. “My department was very unique in that there were no classes, no grades, no projects. You just got a studio and did your work.” While there, Doug met a fellow student named Yu-Chih Hsiao who would transform his work from then on. “I was doing work that was facilitating social interaction, and he had been doing this translation of a two dimensional line into a three dimensional form. We were really interested in each other’s work, so the last semester of our program we decided to collaborate directly.”
Their joint thesis project was forming a gathering space: a few thousand feet of plastic tubing woven around a towering wooden frame. “Every time it crossed over itself, at the intersection we would put a ziptie. It was fairly improvisational, very immediate. It was like drawing three dimensionally with this line. We were forming this kind of shell space, and at some point we had made enough connections that it became semi-rigid so that we could remove the frame, creating an internal space. For both of us, that was really pivotal. I became obsessed with that way of working, with this flexible line of material connecting to itself, to create a three dimensional object.” After his thesis, Doug moved to New York to begin his career as an architect. Significantly limited by space and time, he scaled down his materials and continued exploring the work he began at Cranbrook. “I tried knitting for a while, but eventually I gravitated towards sewing. I found it amazing that this thin, seemingly weak, innocent thread can be so strong when it’s stitched in a certain way and bond two pieces of material together, almost invisibly.”