Sarah Anne Johnson
Sarah Anne Johnson’s stated goal has always been to achieve some measure of utopia and, in so doing, to produce work of social value. Her various bodies of work have been consistent with this intention. The first, “Tree Planting,” investigated, through documentary photographs and photographs of dioramas built to re-stage events that were remembered but not recorded, whether it was possible to sustain a committed sense of community through shared meaningful activity. The next body of work was drawn from a number of visits she made to the Galapagos Islands as a working volunteer. It included photography, small paintings, dioramas and a “doll house” into which viewers could peek and sense the theatrical unfoldings of its inhabitants. The next series, “House on Fire” also represented a seeking after utopia but in this instance the subject was her own family. The line ran from the artist to her mother and finally to her grandmother who had been victimized through extended experimental treatment at the Allen Memorial Institute in Montreal where she’d sought help for postpartum depression. Johnson used enlarged family photographs overdrawn in a tracery of psychedelic patterning, newspaper clippings from the family’s archives reporting on the class action suit her grandparents launched, as well as modeled small figures, this time in the formal material of bronze. She further employed colour photographs, amplified and painted on, and a “house” on fire, its architecture skewed the way a mind which has been tampered with would read the world. Each room represented another terrifying response to altered reality, and here Johnson created the nightmare her grandmother, and by extension, her family, had lived. This work is in the collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario.
Sarah Anne Johnson was born in Winnipeg in 1976 and graduated from the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree. In 2004 she received a Master of Fine Arts Degree from Yale University. Her practice, while primarily photography, also includes drawing, sculpture and performance. Sarah Anne Johnson has received numerous awards, including the first annual Grange Prize for photography in 2007. Her work is in many private and public collections including the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Guggenheim Museum in New York. She has shown across Canada and internationally and has taught at Yale and the University of Manitoba. She lives in Winnipeg.