Michael J. Masucci
6 min readMar 27, 2022

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Kate Johnson (1969–2020)- Digital Artist and Hyphenate

Second in a series on the past, present and future of digital art.

Kate Johnson in 2005 at the Croatian-Bosnian border, for the PBS documentary “Mia-A Dancer’s Jouneyr” for which she won an Emmy.

March 27, 2022, marks the second anniversary of the passing of artist, educator and thinker Kate Johnson (1969–2022). Digital art has a long history and comes in many flavors. Some, such as Johnson, have chosen to integrate the techniques and tools from both traditional, analog and even physical art, along with the more fluid and dynamic capabilities of the digital vernacular. A writer, director, photographer, musician and performer, she had the heart and soul of an artist along with the mind and hands of an engineer. She could write computer code, fabricate objects and inspire all those around her to do their best and always strive further upwards.

Sometimes an artist leaves this plane of existence before her work is appreciated fully, and often artists are not recognized for their greatness until they have departed. Now that digital art is becoming more widely appreciated, there are those who came before, and whose efforts are worth remembering. Kate Johnson was nowhere near among the first digital artists. But some believe that she may ultimately be seen as among the most significant.

In 2021, the City of Santa Monica, where Johnson’s EZTV studio (also known as Studio Hyphen) was located for 20 years, created a Fellowship Grant in her honor.

EZTV’s webmaster Anais Montoya has worked towards creating a place within the EZTV Museum dedicated to her work. More videos of her work as well as other of her projects are being constantly added.

Initially and for the near-term, this work-in-progress web page is, in addition to some of her greatest achievements, populated with scores of brief statements from her former friends, collogues, students and admirers. Some have even created original art works in her honor. Former students, colleagues, historians, curators and friends from as far away as Mumbai, London, Hawaii, and France. Some sent self-created videos, poems and other artworks in Kate’s honor.

For example, French artist, curator and researcher Sibylle de Laurens. In 2019, she produced along with her colleague Pascaline Morincome, a series of four events about EZTV at the Kandinsky Library, Centre Pompidou in Paris. Kate Johnson spoke at two of these events:

The final Kandinsky/Pompidou event in 2019 was to be Johnsons’ last public lecture. She did one last public performance several months later, in Santa Monica, as part of EZTV’s 40th anniversary, where the above video also premiered. Last year, at the one-year anniversary of Johnson’s passing, de Laurens also created a whimsical animation which depicted Kate’s lecture.

Johnson spent time as an undergraduate in college, working on archeological digs and had become fascinated with the question of remembrance. Now it is time for those who knew her, to lend their voices to the expansion of her memory and to introduce her legacy to those yet to discover her. From her own original art experiences, onto to her numerous collaborative achievements with artists such as performance artist Barbara T. Smith artist/writer/publisher Suzanna B. Daikin, writer/director S. Pearl Sharp, choreographers such as Linda Lack, PhD, Donna Sternberg, and Lorretta Livingston, onto her sensitive and evocative commissions for UCLA, the Music Center, LACMA, the Getty Center as well as numerous other non-profit organizations and initiatives, she gave her all to everything she did.

Johnson with writer/director S. Pearl Sharp during editing of “The Healing Passage- Voices from the Water”

As an educator, for 20 years at Otis College of Art & Design in the Digital Media Department under department chair Harry Mott, and previously teaching a few courses at the AFI in the digital department of Maija Beeton, her love for her students was only matched by their love for her. And her love for her adopted home, the 18th Street Arts Center, where her studio was located for 20 years, was unbounded. Today her studio still exists, now renamed the Kate Johnson Memorial Media Lab. Her mentors and teachers, especially Carol Tingle, stuck with her to the very end, bringing her love and hope as she faced the inevitable.

Johnson served as a role model for young women, who even during her various travels, gravitated towards her as an inspiration for their own lives.

In Cairo, meeting with young women and students.

Johnson’s decades of art works combined techniques native to both digital and analog art-based practices. She knew computer coding and manipulated her ever-evolving software tools to go farther than others were doing at the time.

For example, “Between Thoughts” (2003) combines her skills as writer, director, cinematographer, musician, editor and coder, as well as her skills as an actor through her voice-over performance, to create an evocative, no-budget DIY experience that stands the test of time:

Two years later, outraged at the horrendous murder of journalist Daniel Pearl, she created another hybrid masterpiece, “Libra” (2005) in which her skills again demonstrated the power of DIY no-budget digital art:

She went on to win an Emmy, her first time as a co-producer and co-director (along with Maria Ramas )of a PBS documentary …

…and created some of the largest digital images that had yet been seen in Los Angeles. For example, in 2017, at the onset of her journey with lung cancer, she created and projected a massive 32 story digital art animation piece on LA’s iconic City Hall, commissioned by the County of Los Angeles in honer of seminal LA-based theater group Center Theater Group’s 50th Anniversary. Johnson had suffered a mild stroke several days before the event but still managed to complete the project and attend its presentation:

The EZTV logo projected onto the surface of the Getty Museum, during part of Johnson’s digital art projection contribution to the gala opening of the Getty’s massive 2011 initiative, “Pacific Standard Time”

In addition to her prodigious capacity as a digital artist, Johnson also was trained as a modern dancer as well as an actor and musician. Going as far back to 1997, at Burning Man, we can see her dancing in front of a burning bonfire, as well as leading the procession of 10,000 people, holding the torch that was to ignite the “Man.”

A cisgender woman, she was instrumental in preserving a seminal Queer archive of media art and ephemera, now part of the permanent collection of USC’s ONE Archives ( the world’s largest LGBTQ+ archive).

USC ONE Archives former curator David Franz discussing the acquisition of the EZTV Archives

Her passing took place when the world was beginning to focus on COVID. Yet some took notice. For example, Clayton Campbell in the influential art magazine Artillery published this:

But perhaps it is best to let Kate Johnson speak for herself, to see her brilliance and sensitivity to both art and the human condition. Here is an excerpt from her interview from Kate Crash’s 2011 documentary “LA Woman.”

Johnson’s achievements will likely become better appreciated in the years ahead. There is so much more to say about this remarkable human spirit. But there is time and efforts are underway to tell her story. A documentary is in the works which will modestly attempt to convey all the talents, spirit and warmth this incredible individual displayed. It is expected to premiere in 2024, as part of the final installment in a four-year survey being presented through a collaboration between the EZTV Online Museum and LA-SIGGRAPH.

NOTE: For those of you still unfamiliar with SIGGRAPH and its enormous and indispensable contributions to digital art, an article in this series will be dedicated entirely to them.

AND ON A PERSONAL NOTE: For full disclosure, I cannot claim being unbiased in this tribute to the second anniversary of Kate’s passing. I was her life partner for 27 years. I loved her immensely, miss her deeply, and will never forget her.She was both a great individual as well as a great artist. I am pledged to making sure that others remember her as well.

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Michael J. Masucci

Internationally exhibited video and digital artist & lecturer. Commissioner & Chair, Santa Monica Arts Commission, Director, EZTV Online Museum.