During October 2009 Sarah Anne Johnson participated in an artist’s residency on board a double masted schooner in the Norwegian territory of the Arctic Circle. Each of the twelve days at sea the group visited a different site on land, ranging from untouched vistas of pure landscape to abandoned mining camps. She photographed what she saw, which became the basis for her new body of work entitled “Arctic Wonderland.”
She described the experience as “amazing, it was exotic, breathtakingly beautiful and sublime. It seemed so pristine and perfect, vast and strong, but also somehow delicate and fleeting. After such an experience, one can’t help speculating about the impact we have on this planet.
We are in the process of creating irreparable damage to the earth and will soon have no choice but to gamble on increasingly dubious theories. A favorite theory of engineers as a last resort to stop global warming is the blocking out of the sun. With this body of work I have been assessing and questioning western ideas of progress, growth and innovation. What are we progressing toward? Where does innovation lead us? How big can we go? What will it mean for us to take over the sun? Not only for the environment, but also psychologically for us, what will that mean?
To explore these concerns I have painted, photo shopped, embossed and used printmaking on the photographs I took during the expedition. I do this to create a more honest image. To show not just what I saw, but how I feel about what I saw.”
The imagery is celebratory with an ironic underside. Fireworks, confetti, cheerleaders and banners inhabit the landscape. Wonderland has the double meaning of referring to the brilliant beauty of the landscape, but also the absurdity of some of the notions of how to colonize this place.
“Arctic Wonderland” will be Sarah Anne Johnson’s fourth solo exhibition with the gallery, the first being “Tree Planting” in 2005 which was recently exhibited at the Guggenheim in “Haunted: recent acquisitions in photography and video”. Each of her exhibitions has been conceived as an installation and has been acquired in their entirety by a public museum, including the Guggenheim, Art Gallery of Ontario, and the National Gallery of Canada. This is the first project that is comprised of free standing independent works.
Johnson lives and works in Winnipeg, Canada and received her MFA from Yale University. She was the recipient of the first Annual Grange prize. Her work has been exhibited and collected by numerous public institutions as noted above.