Massacre of the Innocents, 2015, HD video.  Contact artist for password to Vimeo link:

Massacre of the Innocents was created as an elegy to Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy who was shot by police in Cleveland in 2014.  Though the caller who instigated the police dispatch reported that Tamir was probably a juvenile and that the gun he was pointing at a recreation center was probably fake, police fired on him within two seconds of their arrival on the scene.  Neither of the two responding officers administered first aid and Tamir Rice died the next day.  This incident represents, in effect, a summary execution, an extrajudicial act of authority.

The toy objects and sounds rotating throughout the video are from different developmental stages of childhood, from teething rings and Tinker Toys to marbles, miniature police cars and remote controls.  Toys designed to teach the alphabet breathe the letter H and spell out N.R.A. while others play mechanized ditties such as The Yellow Rose of Texas.

Projected onto or behind these objects of innocence are target practice diagrams so that the objects spiral around their bulls’ eyes. These target sheets are seen from behind so that we can imagine being in the cross hairs and crossfire.  Bullets are aimed at us, rather than at some other innocent.  Authority is capricious, exerted with bias and—too often—fatal results.

The related sculpture, Rehearsal, alludes to “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil,” representing the adamant refusal to face the facts on gun violence. Human ears, cast in marble, are plugged with live bullets that have not yet punctured the absence they flank, a silent emptiness that may represent incomprehension or denial, or those departed – whether by suicide or homicide.  It consists of metal bookends, cast cultured marble, and live bullets, 5 x 5 x 4.625 inches.


 Passages on Massacre of the Innocents from the catalogue for UNLOADED, a traveling exhibition that premiered at SPACE in Pittsburgh in 2015.

 Johnson’s video Massacre of the Innocents further reflects the consequences of our ignorance, indifference, fear or inaction. Target practice sheets appear in succession, but from their reverse sides. We imagine the bullets coming at us, not fired away from us, as in typical first shooter positions so popular in films and gaming. Objects of innocence revolve around the bull’s eyes, caught in the crossfire. The work is a stark pronouncement: it is our own safety that is compromised and threatened by guns.

...Johnson’s video Massacre of the Innocents presents the backsides of firing range targets; the viewers are the implied marks. Toys for children who are no more circulate in slow motion, sometimes aligning with the bull’s eyes, suggesting who and what is endangered – cops and criminals, adults and children alike. According to the FBI and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, guns kill more preschool-age children (about 80 a year) than police officers (about 50), despite the existence of old and new technologies that could reduce those numbers. One can no longer buy the childproof Smith & Wesson handguns manufactured in the 1880s. New smart guns that can be fired only by authorized users (using fingerprint recognition) could prevent accidental or criminal use, but the NRA resists them, claiming they are unreliable and may become mandatory. Gun rights lobbies consistently oppose gun safety proposals, such as California Senate Bill 199. Seeking to visibly distinguish pellet, toy and airguns from real guns, a diluted version of the bill passed, requiring only two short colored adhesive stripes. Federal law requires only that replica guns have an orange mark on the tips of their barrels; children remove or paint over them easily. Colorful or not, most states have no age limits for purchase of airguns that share the risks inherent to carrying real guns. A 2009 University of Pennsylvania epidemiological study found that those with firearms were about 4.5 times more likely to be shot than those who did not carry. Successful defensive gun use is rare, despite the persistent and prevalent notion that guns protect.