What if you could hop on a bus, get out of the city and go to a gallery in one of Canada’s most beautiful landscapes (say, the same landscape that inspired the Group of Seven)? Well, you can! All you have to do is meet at the Gladstone Hotel and get a ride up to The McMichael Canadian Art Collection. Don’t worry, you’ll be back for bedtime.
Pick up at the Gladstone at 11am, drop off at 5pm
June 12, July 17, August 7, September 4
THURSDAY NIGHT LATES:
Pick up at the Gladstone at 5:30pm, drop off at 10pm
July 21, August 18, September 15, October 20
On the tour, you will see four special exhibitions – Jack Bush: In Studio; Colleen Heslin: Needles and Pins; and Tom Thomson & A.Y. Jackson: Wounds of War – as well as Field Trip by Sarah Anne Johnson. Inspired by Johnson’s time at music festivals, the artist captures the hallucinogenic feeling of coming of age through dawn, dusk and the detritus of finding oneself in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by strangers. Harriet Alida Lye sat down with Sarah Anne Johnson to find out about her process, her goals, and her drug habits.
The McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario.
Why are you drawn to photography, and what are your goals with this medium?
My work changes a lot, but when I’m doing photography, the thing that remains constant is a frustration with the limitations of representation that the medium allows. Photography is really good at showing you what something looks like – in fact, it’s the best of all the mediums at showing you what something actually looks like – but it’s not so good at showing you more complicated things. A sensation, a feeling, a memory. With my photography, I tend to go out and have an experience, and then I want to make work about it. The experience has to be something pretty big, like, life changing, and when you experience something like that, it’s not just about the event itself, it’s so much about the memory. But photography is very present. So to deal with this paradox, I mess with my prints. I’m manipulating the work in more and more ways – painting on it, pouring glitter over it, cutting into it, all that kind of stuff – to express a more personal experience.
(Image: Group Portrait, Sarah Anne Johnson, 2015, unique chromogenic print, Courtesy of Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto; Galerie Division, Montreal; Julie Saul Gallery, New York)
This exhibit definitely feels personal, but you’ve captured something universal at the same time. Maybe because of how the faces are painted over, capturing something other than physical appearance – is this linked to why you started manipulating your photos?
Well, I know other photographers would cringe if I were to call this documentary work, but I’m gonna say it anyway! I really do think of this as documentary work. There’s this idea that photography is fact, and it’s not. We’ve known this for a very long time: it’s all about the photographer and their bias. A photographer has certain tools that they can use to create, or reveal, that bias – if you’re shooting a moment, you can leave certain things out of the frame; you can increase the contrast to make something look grittier and edgier, or print it lighter to make it look more palatable. I think of all of this extra stuff I’m doing as more tools in my belt, and a way of making my bias more apparent.
(Image: Zombie Dance, Sarah Anne Johnson, 2015, photoshopped chromogenic print, Courtesy of Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto; Galerie Division, Montreal; Julie Saul Gallery, New York)
How do you land on your subjects?
I’m always trying to find subject matters that allow me to play around with all of these ideas. The last project I did was about intimacy, which is a very internal thing, so with that I showing what these couples looked like, but I was also trying to show what was going on in their heads. This work is very different, but similar in that it’s showing you what the landscape and the people look like, but also showing you what it feels like to be there – the psychology of the landscape, group dynamics, drug taking, all that kind of stuff.
(Image: Pink Forest, Sarah Anne Johnson, 2015, photoshopped chromogenic print, Courtesy of Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto; Galerie Division, Montreal; Julie Saul Gallery, New York)
How did the idea for Field Trip come about?
I’ve been going to music festivals since I was a kid. I grew up in a really strict household, I wasn’t even allowed to sleep over at friends’ houses, but for some reason, when I was 14 or 15, I was allowed to go to the Winnipeg Folk Festival with my buds for three nights with no parental supervision. That was my first taste of real freedom, and it proved really important for me. Although that being said, I had to call home three times a day from the one payphone on the property, half an hour into the site, and try not to sound too hungover.
And when did you start executing Field Trip?
I’ve been trying to make this work since around 2001 but – I’m being very honest with you right now – because I was too busy partaking in festival activities, my pictures were horrible. Horrible. Really out of focus, or like “woaaah look at that leaf.” There are some photos in this series, actually, that were taken in around 2002, and they look different than the rest because they were taken with a film camera, a twin-lens reflex camera, and the photos are square. They have a current date, though, because I only figured out what to do with them within the last year. Sometimes I know what to do with an image immediately, and sometimes they’re up on my wall for a year or two before I figure out what it needs. A lot of it is playing around, and sometimes getting lucky.
So, for the last three years I’ve gone to music festivals by myself, with my camera, just to take pictures. A totally different experience. I would go and shoot until about midnight, then I’d take a nap and wake up at 4:30am, to catch the sunrise and the people who had been partying all night, the stuff that had been left on the dance floor and in the bushes, people trudging home, you know. Then I’d take another nap, wake up in the afternoon and keep going. I never name the specific festival, though, because that’s not what’s important to me – it’s about the feeling.
(Image: Yellow Dinosaur, Sarah Anne Johnson, 2015, photoshopped chromogenic print, Courtesy of Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto; Galerie Division, Montreal; Julie Saul Gallery, New York)
Do you know what you’ll be working on next?
Usually when I’ve finished with a project I feel like I’ve done all I can do and said all I have to say and I switch to another subject or medium, but with this one, I think I’ll keep going. I think I’ll spend the summer going to more festivals and making more work. I feel like I’m finally starting to figure out my visual vocabulary, work that really expresses my ideas about photography and art, and I’ve only scratched the surface with this. It’s the first time I feel like I have so many more ideas that I can’t wait to make.
What are your objectives with your work in general?
The main thing I want is for my work to be able to change with you over time, which I know is a tall order, but there’s work that I loved as a kid that I still love today for different reasons. I would love for my work to be able to do that – it’s something I think about. And it can be different for each person, so anything you bring to it is totally fine with me.
Sarah Anne Johnson: While her work is primarily photo-based, she works with paint, sculpture, and performance. Sarah Anne received her MFA from Yale and BFA from the University of Manitoba. Her work is part of numerous public collections, including the Guggenheim Museum, The Phillips collection, The National Gallery of Canada, and the Art Gallery of Ontario.