Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Sarah Ann Johnson in The New York Times

Friday, October 30, 2009

Art in Review

'House on Fire'
Julie Saul
535 West 22nd Street,

Through Nov. 14

"Explosion," a bronze and plastic figure by Sarah Anne Johnson, in her show "House on Fire."

"The Canadian artist Sarah Anne Johnson is struggling with remarkable family history in her second New York solo exhibition.
The back story is that when her maternal grandmother, Velma Orlikow, sought treatment for postpartum depression in the 1950s, she was subjected to a horrifying experimental regimen. Under the care of Dr. Ewen Cameron, a psychiatrist affiliated with McGill University, she underwent powerful shock treatments and prolonged periods of drug-induced sleep in which suggestive tapes were played. In addition, as a subcontractor for a C.I.A. program that was investigating drugs as brainwashing and interrogation tools, Dr. Cameron gave her heavy doses of LSD. After her release Ms. Orlikow suffered from debilitating mental illness for the rest of her life. In the 1970s she joined a class-action suit against the C.I.A., but she died before a settlement was reached in 1988.

To represent the essence of this harrowing tale, Ms. Johnson has drawn lacy patterns over old family photographs to represent hallucinatory experience and created a series of doll-size bronzes representing her grandmother's psychic torment. In one her head explodes into a mushroom cloud; in another she has a squirrel's head.

Ms. Johnson has also constructed a kind of psychotic's dollhouse. Peering in the windows you see topsy-turvy furniture, a snowbound room and other signs of delusion.

While intriguing, Ms. Johnson's works remain fragmentary and elliptical, like illustrations without the text that explains them. Maybe only a written memoir could do justice to this history. But it will be interesting to see how she takes it from here. KEN JOHNSON


House on Fire is Sarah Anne Johnson's third solo exhibition in New York.

Velma Orlikow lived to see the settlement reached in 1988.

Links to additional press on House on Fire exhibition:

Time Out New York, October 22-28, 2009

The Village Voice, September 15, 2009

New York Magazine Fall Previews, August 31-September 7, 2009

Art Gallery of Ontario Acquisition Press Release, House on Fire

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