Conspiracy, Discounted Histories, and Nostalgia at the Met Breuer

By Tausif Noor
December 17, 2018

“Thickening the air with its pollutive force, conspiracy became a national pastime in late 1960s and 1970s America, particularly surrounding the assassination of JFK and the Watergate scandal. Mistrust of government officials, the ongoing war in Vietnam, the fight for civil rights, and the spread of counterculture had fractured the notion of a unitary national identity; conspiracy allowed the American public to find common ground. Jim Shaw’s UFO Photo series and Martian Portraits(both 1978) recall the fervent spread in the belief of extraterrestrial life in the ‘70s. These cryptic photographs, with their sepia and gray washes, evoke a double nostalgia: the one felt by viewers in 1978, and another that is so apparent now, forty years later. Sarah Anne Johnson’s graphite and acrylic interventions on family photographs, Lysergic Acid Diethylamide and Black Cloud (2008), refer to the CIA-backed MK-ULTRA experimental mind-control programs billed as psychiatric treatment, that were conducted at Montreal’s Allen Memorial Institute. Project MK-ULTRA was investigated by joint Senate hearings in 1977 and widely reported by media outlets. While these facts are acknowledged in the wall labels, the decision to place Johnson’s pieces in the second half of the exhibition alongside Shaw’s UFO photos raises questions about which histories are remembered, and which are routinely dismissed.”

For the full article, click here.

The Cave

Julie Saul Gallery
New York, NY
November 8 – December 15, 2018

“Sarah Anne Johnson has created an installation depicting a cave in which she will both enact a performance and alternatively place surrogate figures representing her grandmother and her doctor. The active installation has evolved from Johnson’s 2009 House on Fire series and is being shown in conjunction with the exhibition Everything is Connected: Art and Conspiracy, 1969-2016 at the MET Breuer, running through January 6th, 2019.

The gallery space has been transformed into an enormous cave structure with the performance taking place within it. In addition, Johnson has created a series of three small porcelain sculptures depicting her grandmother and the doctor that eerily revolve on their bases. Johnson has previously created several installations and performances relating to House on Fire throughout Canada.

This installation has evolved from Johnson’s House on Fire series, based on a personal family story. In the 1950s Johnson’s maternal grandmother Velma Orlikow sought treatment for postpartum depression and unwittingly took part in the experiments of CIA funded American Doctor Ewen Cameron at MacGill University. Patients were subjected to a series of mind-control experiments including shock and drug therapies and induced prolonged sleep. The effects were permanently disabling to her, and have had a multigenerational effect on the entire family. In 1979 a class action suit was initiated by a group of nine patients, and was settled out of court in 1988.”

For a full press release, click here.

Rosy-Fingered Dawn

Division Gallery
Montreal, QC
November 22, 2018 – February 2, 2019

“Photography’s greatest virtue is also its most fraught: how is the camera, an inherently objective device, meant to preserve the ephemeral or describe the ineffable? Sarah Anne Johnson’s new exhibition addresses such impossibilities, turning the limitations of her medium into opportunities. Supplementing her photographs with tactile interventions, she revivifies her own euphoric experiences, conjuring the personal from the merely real.

Adorned with neon and gaudy stickers, the new landscapes feel forcedly cheerful. This, Johnson says, is by design. Her prints have always celebrated nature’s grandeur; here, however, in these views of oceans, forests and desert, her environmental conscience probes deeper, the strain of her optimism grown more pronounced and the imagery turned sickly-sweet. Cotton balls exaggerate the fluffiness of clouds. Fields sprout plastic flowers. What might be sublime sunsets curdle, on closer inspection, into cloying overstatement. Johnson is declaring the death of the sublime, describing the ever-narrowing divide between nature, cherished, and nature, mourned.”

For a full press release, click here.