Field Trip: Sarah Anne Johnson is composed of works from the Winnipeg-based artist’s latest series of photographs, inspired by the social climate of outdoor music festivals. A rite of passage for Johnson during adolescence, as it is for many others, the festival exposed her to an immersive, pleasure-seeking lifestyle. In time, the artist returned to photograph this bohemian cultural phenomenon as a voyeur. Coalescing nostalgic memories of lived experiences with forgotten realities of festival life, she documents a world at the point where her status as both subjective participant and objective chronicler meet.
The Field Trip series reflects on the often futile search for a utopian life of freedom and hedonism in the festival landscape. On the surface, the photographs document moments of leisure—lounging at the beach, private coupling, and frenzied partying. Deeper observation reveals the dark side of festival drug culture that is less idyllic or desirable than imagined.
Reworking the photographic print using image-editing software or paint, glitter, and surface incisions, Johnson heightens the atmospheric qualities and suggests layers of narrative. Her use of hyper-bright and neon colours in images such as Orange Shoe (2015), or the insertion of alien-like masks over the dancers’ faces in Paranoia 1 (2015), create strange and slightly unsettling scenes as seen through the distorted eyes of the festival participants who are under the influence. In these surreal photographs, Johnson tries to capture a psychological state of mind that encapsulates the experience of getting high or being intoxicated, one the camera alone cannot convey.
Johnson’s physical interventions in her photographs also infuse them with dreamlike qualities, and encourage moments of reflection. Seemingly innocuous scenes, such as people dancing or the trivial objects in her still life images, are elevated into prominence by Johnson’s camera and her subsequent reworking of the images. Drooping Flower and Beer (2015) is a modern vanitas, with its traditional message about the transience of time and inescapable mortality. The wilting flowers, which the artist has physically cut around so that they fall forward from the picture plane, symbolize a disappearing nature. The beer can could represent encroaching human consumerism, but it also contains the implications of hypocrisy and self-indulgence, particularly when situated against the festival backdrop—a gathering place for environmentally friendly and freedom-chasing individuals who wish to commune with nature, not destroy it with their waste products.
But it is not all serious, for in every dramatic scene there is also a lighter side, the intent of which is to poke fun. Using the state of hallucination or inebriation as a base from which to depict scenes of modern-day bacchanalia, Johnson invokes humour in her look at a generation of people who are searching for a sense of self and community. Through a series of 50 images, Johnson tells the sometimes awkward, often absurd, but not uncommon story of youth’s coming of age. Although devoid of overt autobiographical references, Field Trip is the artist’s personal pictorial ode to the lost Eden of innocence. It is a compelling journey back to a cherished and sacred place where friendships were forged, self expression was encouraged, life experiences were made and shared, and good times were to be had by all.
Organized by and presented in partnership with the McMichael Canadian Art Collection
Curated by Sharona Adamowicz-Clements