CAJOLE THE NICE NICE | Anna Elise Johnson
November 29th, 2014 - January 31st, 2015
The title for this exhibition comes from a line in the Dada Manifesto by Tristan Tzara that asks if art is only meant to “cajole the nice nice bourgeois.” The exhibition includes a sculptural acrylic collage and a series of two-dimensional collages on hardboard. All manipulate a historical photograph that presents an archetypal scene of political negotiation. In the photo, two suited leaders sit in armchairs with a rug beneath them and a fireplace, fire stokers, table, cup and papers between them. The translators and staff have been purposely omitted from the shot in order to stage a dialogue and posit a personal relationship between two world leaders. The original photograph depicts the negotiations between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev at the 1985 Geneva summit. This singular photograph is meant to monumentalize this event. The collages also represent the scene from multiple vantage points through the incorporation of additional photographs (from the Ronald Reagan Library Archive) taken before and after the carefully chosen and widely disseminated iconic photograph, expanding upon the single memorialized moment.
In the art works, the key players in the scene are cut away, and their removal disperses attention to the carefully manipulated mis-en-scene, making it possible to imagine the scene outside of the stabilized narrative of the event. Objects move and repeat in multiple iterations. Abstract shapes taken from the Kurt Schwitters 1943 collage, Difficult, also overlap and intersect with photographed objects in the room. In the exhibition’s sculptural collage – created by cutting and pasting digital prints, painting, and drawing on layers of acrylic and then attaching the layers with a resin-based adhesive to create a solid, standing acrylic block – the viewer’s physical position in front of the piece shifts the relationship between objects and shapes within the piece, aligning or misaligning them as the viewer moves around the work. In the two-dimensional collages, shapes and objects shift, recombine and repeat throughout, transposing digital, painting, and drawing media.
The art works juxtapose abstract shapes from the Dada collage by Schwitters with photographs of objects from a political scene set in a bourgeois interior at the end of the Cold War and at the beginning of globalized market deregulation and the meshing of market (bourgeois) interests with those of the state. This juxtaposition of political posturing and art elements contemplates in what way such representations and abstractions lure and coddle the bourgeois. Can art create resistance to this “cajoling the nice nice” by imagining new relationships between the political scenario and art devices? This body of work attempts to reinject a representation of stabilized, normalized politics with the potentiality of the political.
Anna Elise Johnson received her MFA from the University of Chicago in 2012 and her BFA from Washington University in St. Louis in 2005, with a major in painting and a minor in art history. She was born in Starnberg, Germany, and grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado. After completing her BFA, Johnson worked in the arts in Baltimore and Denver and as an assistant to her father, who is also an artist. Afterwards she lived in Berlin, Germany for years and worked as an artist assistant for Julie Mehretu. After completing her MFA at the University of Chicago, Anna Elise was a fellow at the Core Program in Houston, TX. She has exhibited her work across the United States as well as in Berlin and London.
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