Opening Reception: Saturday, December 5 at 8 PM
Reception Sponsored by Three Legged Dog: Graphic Design
Sarah Anne Johnson’s latest exhibition is a continuation of themes she explored in House on Fire (2009) and Dancing With The Doctor (2010). These works reflect on trauma sustained as a result of CIA experiments on mind control undertaken from 1950 to 1973. Under the banner of MKUltra, US and Canadian citizens were administered paralytic and psychedelic drugs, subjected to electroconvulsive therapy, isolation, sensory deprivation, drug-induced coma, and verbal and sexual abuse by researchers and psychologists studying the alteration of mental states and brain function. In the 1950s Johnson’s maternal grandmother, Velma Orlikow, sought help for postpartum depression and became an unwilling and unwitting participant in the experiments.
Dancing with the Doctor embodied the experiences of MKUltra through dance – blurring the lines between Orlikow’s hospital experiences of hallucinations, pain, and sensory deprivation with the flashbacks and embodied trauma that ensued after she was released. House on Fire explored these concepts further through sculpture, photography and a macabre dollhouse in which each room represented another horrifying component of the experiments. At SAAG, Johnson’s latest exploration of her family history combines elements of both projects and recreates, in human scale, each of the rooms from the burning dollhouse. Presenting Hospital Hallway – a sterile, clinical space with no doors and no escape – Johnson sets the stage in the first of a series of projects that will take years to complete. A series of videos lines the walls, each featuring the artist as she plays the patient, her grandmother, caught in a claustrophobic and nightmarish purgatory. She moves within and against the walls, both resistant and dependent, her movements gradually communicating the loss of control, loss of self, and total loss of body and mind.
While this exhibition is an exploration of family trauma and the reimagined horrors of the experiments of MKUltra, it can also serve as a more general exploration of the stigma surrounding mental illness. As the character grapples with control, struggling to maintain a sense of self, the contortions of her body mirror the visceral pain one feels when dealing with anxiety, depression, and myriad other mental illnesses. As Johnson delves into this personal history, she provides a glimpse into both the traumas of the past and the realities of the present.
Winnipeg-based Sarah Anne Johnson received her BFA from the University of Manitoba in 2002 and went on to complete her MFA in Photography at the Yale School of Art in 2004. Her first exhibition Tree Planting (2005) was purchased by the Guggenheim Museum. The National Gallery of Canada (NGC) bought most of The Galapagos Project (2007). Johnson was chosen along with other reputable Canadian artists by curator Jonathan Shaughnessy to be shown in Builders (2012), a featured exhibition for the biennale at NGC. Johnson is a finalist for the Sobey Art Award and was nominated on the shortlist in 2011 and longlist in 2009. She is represented by Stephen Bulger Gallery in Toronto and Julie Saul Gallery in New York.
This exhibition is organized by the Southern Alberta Art Gallery. Funding assistance from the Canada Council for the Arts, Alberta Foundation for the Arts, and the City of Lethbridge.