ROCKLAND — Unnamed for Decades by Erin Johnson will be on view at The Center for Maine Contemporary Art, at 21 Winter St., through Sept. 20.
This multi-media, solo exhibition of new work by the artist was originally scheduled to open at CMCA on March 21, but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Erin Johnson, still from the video, “There are things in this world that are yet to be named.”

Johnson is the recipient of the second annual Ellis-Beauregard Foundation Fellowship Award, which grants $25,000 to a Maine artist working in the visual arts and is paired with a solo exhibition at CMCA. Johnson’s research-driven video installations blend documentary, experimental, and narrative filmmaking devices and foreground the ways in which individual lives and sociopolitical realities merge. Comprised of footage of site-specific performances, the videos explore how power structures are communicated through relationships, focusing on histories of nationalism and place.

Unnamed for Decades is Johnson’s first solo museum exhibition in Maine. Spanning two galleries, the exhibition presents a series of new site-specific installations that incorporate videos, sculptures and photographs. These works explore her ongoing interest in the complexity of collectivity, the wide-ranging consequences of scientific research, as well as dissidence, desire, and the queer body.

The title of the exhibition is drawn from a text about Solanum plastisexum, an Australian bush tomato whose sexual expression has confounded scientists and appears to be unpredictable and unstable, challenging even the fluid norms of the plant kingdom. This enigmatic plant is central to There are things in this world that have yet to be named, a video filmed in Bucknell University’s Solanum plastisexum lab and Los Angeles’s Huntington Botanical Garden.

The voice-over is an amalgamation of texts including love letters between conservationist Rachel Carson and her Southport Island, Maine, neighbor Dorothy Freeman, and interviews with botanist Tanisha Williams. In an adjacent series of photographs and video installations, a group of friends, peers, and lovers engage in collective queer and desirous exchanges such as eating tomatoes in a field and floating together in a lake.

Installation view of Tomatoes (Skowhegan), video, 4:26 minutes, by Erin Johnson, at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockland.

In her essay for the exhibition publication, I might not be here when you come, art historian Ellen Y. Tani, writes, “As the omnipresent threat of loss hovers in the air, Johnson returns us to a commingled dream space: a dream of feminist science, the dream of intra- and inter-species communication, and the dream as a proposition for a way of being in the future.”

Erin Johnson was selected for the Ellis-Beauregard Foundation Fellowship Award by jurors Michelle White, Senior Curator, The Menil Collection, Houston; Marshall Price, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University; and Marcela Guerrero, Assistant Curator, Whitney Museum, New York. In announcing the award, Donna McNeil, Executive Director of the Ellis-Beauregard Foundation, stated, “Erin is one of the burgeoning number of artists addressing, through the language of art, the hard issues of the day. We are enormously proud of the work she does and we are not alone.”

Erin Johnson (b.1985) has exhibited her work at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, Lincoln, MA; Berkeley Art Museum, Berkeley, California; Portland Museum of Art, Portland, ME; Rubin Center for the Visual Arts at the University of Texas, El Paso; Vox Populi, Philadelphia; and Telfair Museums, Savannah, Georgia, among other venues. She received an MFA in Art Practice and Certificate in New Media from UC Berkeley in 2013 and attended the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture in 2019. She is currently an artist-in-residence at Pioneer Works, Brooklyn, New York, and a Visiting Assistant Professor at Bowdoin College.

 

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