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‘An inspirational moment for the local community’: Punk exhibition welcomes the return of two Pensacola artists

In conjunction with Night on the Tracks, the 309 Punk Project will be hosting a two-person photography exhibition serving as the closing installation for May artist-in-residence Felicia E. Gail and introduction to June artist-in-residence WM Johnson. Both Gail and Johnson are northwest Florida natives who have moved away to cultivate careers in the art and music scenes in their new hometowns of Atlanta and Chattanooga, respectively.

“Bringing folks back home to Pensacola to share what they are doing now is not only uplifting to the artists but an inspirational moment for the local community,” said Valerie George, curator of the exhibition.

An interdisciplinary artist whose work takes on photography, writing, and more, Gail’s installation will focus on work that she created during her residency at the 309 House.

Felicia E. Gail
A photograph from "Travel Back to Blue" at 309 Punk Project

“In my work, I respond to spaces specifically based upon the site,” Gail said. “For example, the house of 309 is very unique when you consider its history and the texture, sounds, and feeling on the inside and outside, which can inform how the aesthetics of the artwork are displayed. In this case, it is also centered around my interactions with the people who are touched by this house, these people, and these ideas in turn.”

Her work that will be on display was inspired by Gail’s friendship with Kent Stanton, a former resident of the 309 House and local musician who passed away in 2020. Gail and Stanton used to take walks, sing, and write together. During her residency, Gail invited the community to take walks with her, embarking on an opportunity to free-write, photograph, and enjoy impulsive creativity.

This body of work, part of her “Travel Back to Blue” series, includes ephemera from these walks, alongside photography, sculpture, and installation.

“This house and archive are so pervasive in Pensacola that it makes waves of sound throughout the Southeast, the country, and the world,” Gail said. “309 helps a kind of world seem more manageable in that sense, because representation is seen, heard, and valued for the disenfranchised within it. In this work, I utilize the horizon line as a metaphor for transformation and the hope for changes in perception.”

“Those [photographed] will walk away from her exhibition feeling seen and heard, which is huge,” George added.

Gail's listening station
Felicia E. Gail
Gail's listening station

Gail’s installation will also feature a cyanotype print of a tape recording of her and Stanton singing together. A listening station will be available to view the old recording and listen to a new one that was made with a friend.

The two-person exhibition will also highlight the work of WM Johnson, a former resident of the 309 House. He returns to Pensacola with a body of work that documents his work life as an art installer in Chattanooga, featuring numerous black and white photographs of life behind the scenes of the fine art world.

“The idea of contrasting the punk, art nature of 309 with the affluent work setting of something adjacent to art felt like the right juxtaposition for the space,” Johnson said. “Photography by its nature is exploitative as is most work to a degree, so being exploited and exploitive at the same time blurs the lines. Photographers and cameras often gravitate toward the ‘big’ moments of life, but in truth, it's the everyday that goes undocumented, and the approach of always having a camera on you yields things from everyday life that are often neglected.”

The images, contrasted with the raw walls of the historic punk house, invite viewers to consider the overarching themes of class to contemplate the divide between artwork and working in the art world. It also puts into perspective the divide between the DIY art scene and the fine art world.

WM Johnson
Bob Wright hanging shelves, August, 2019

“I've been documenting this since I started being a sideman from time to time, and to be honest, hadn't thought about the photos beyond their existence as negatives until 309,” Johnson said. “Art installation has shaped my view of art dramatically. I often find myself looking at pieces in museums and wondering ‘how'd they get that up there?’”

While the series focuses on the divide within the art world on a philosophical level, it also centers on the practicality of art installation with friend and fellow artist Bob Wright. Johnson hopes that this body of work will remind artists to always put proper hanging devices and hardware on their artwork before being installed.

“I don't want to be three stories up on a ladder with Bob only to realize some abstract painter with a 10,000 word artist statement didn't bother to put two d-rings on the back of their painting,” Johnson said. “I don't judge art by what it has on the front of it, but I do judge it by what is or isn't on the back.”

During his June residency in Pensacola, Johnson plans to shoot photographs around the community. He says that if anybody wants a self-portrait while he’s here, feel free to contact him.

The Night on the Tracks photo exhibition with the 309 Punk Project will take place on June 3 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The 309 House is located at 309 N. 6th Ave in downtown Pensacola.

For more information about the 309 Punk Project, click here.

Hunter joined WUWF in 2021 as a student reporter.