Mary A. Johnson

Statement / 中文


I create work using organic materials and digital images reminiscent of petri dishes, forgotten refrigerators, and Dutch still lives. The work takes the form of thickly-layered paper-based constructions, flat and not flat, and stretches itself to investigate places of tension. It is constructed from inkjet photographic prints, synthetic components and paper painted and soaked with natural materials. By amassing the multiple layers as a whole, the pieces are organically formed and drip or protrude from the wall. Organic materials seamlessly run into printed images and distinct polarities become indistinct my work.

I use natural materials because they provide content as the alchemic changes they undergo reflect the work’s conceptual inquiries into spaces between states. For example, within Seep In / Seep Out / Object / Image, exhibited at Aotu Space [Beijing], purple cabbage dye transforms quickly into an intense blue with the addition of an iron mordant. Within Eyes & Roots, red dragon fruit mordanted with Baijiu, a Chinese liquor, changes from a bubble-gum pink into a yellowed Creamsicle tone on the rice paper botanical silhouettes. Organic objects can change the familiar into the unfamiliar and call into question what is natural. For example, integrated into the large back panels of Seep In / Seep Out are photographs of fantastically horned Romanesco that mirror the same acidic green of the translucent, plastic party cups stacked in small mountains at the base of the layers of paper. Traditionally, the synthetic takes the form of the natural; here I invert this relationship. Additionally, natural materials bring their own histories into the work, as seen in the dye created by Haematoxylum campechianum, a Central American a woody shrub called ‘bloodwood’ or ‘logwood’ that creates hues that range from orange to deep purple. I use this dye in Mouths Wide Open and other works. Originally harvested by indigenous people for mural and textile colorant, it was coopted by the Spanish who used slave labor to procure the plant which grows in harsh environments where the risk of injury or illness is high. Currently, a component of the plant is used to dye cell samples for biological study. Black Arrangement also contains ‘harmless’ natural materials, such as indigo and black rice, but also pigment made from cadmium, which is a known carcinogen.

I primarily use collaged elements that are created opposed to found. The digital images used in my work are taken from still lives I build in the studio and allow to sit for weeks. I use photography based on its presumption to capture an image or experience reliably. The re-contextualization of fragments of photographic imagery in the midst of the painted or drawn weakens this presumption. The still lives I construct are tangibly real- they create odors, draw insects, and slowly melt. Photographs of the lush and the repulsive mediate this experience through the lens. Images of raw meat retain their slick, bloody texture, but are flattened in the printing process, becoming painting-like in works such as Tubular Piscal Throbbing once printed on rice paper. Scanning and then reprinting images, as I did for the vinyl floor panels in Seep In / Seep Out, creates a larger gap between the experience and the image.

My work emphasizes the unstable and the unreliable. Collaged images, in conjunction with natural dyes, create a space in which it is difficult to determine which is which. Is that the guts of a fish or the bitten inside of a peach? Is that paint or the slowly cooked juices of black rice, or blood? The juxtaposition of the photographed and the painted places the viewer in a place in-between. The work locates itself in a stretched spot in between what attracts and repulses us, what is organic and synthetic, and what we see and what we think we see. This is the space where things mimic, reflect, and simultaneously polarize. In this place you make choices: do you question your perception or your environment?