11 December 2012

Century of the Lights

Paddling bush

The Bird History Drawings by Sue Johnson
charcoal on paper
50 x 38 inches

Sue Johnson is an artist born in San Francisco, USA.

Her work is grounded in the genre of the still life and vanitas, and explores the role of artist-naturalists and the history of collections and collectors as she often works collaboratively with museums, libraries and private collections to develop site-specific exhibition projects. 

Since 1995, Sue Johnson has created work under the rubric of The Alternate Encyclopedia, which serves as a conceptual umbrella for a diverse series of projects that focus on the works of literary figures such as Lewis Carroll and Marianne Moore, New World exploration, and the intersection of art, science and popular culture.

The Alternate Encyclopedia encompasses and comments on issues related to the history of natural history documentation, shifting to more contemporary notions of how we humans construct our understandings of the natural world.

Like our contemporary Guinness Book of World Records, many early engravings were disseminated as proof of oddity before Polaroid cameras and video could capture such things.

In this example a mythological creature is presented in the same context as an orange.

Citrus-breathing dragon with illustration of oranges
gouache and watercolor on paper

This print comments on both the power of visual images to endure, but also the shift in the burden of proof to photography in the mid-19th century.

Simply put, The Rabbit Bush, my own variation on the commonly depicted plant and animal hybrids of Medieval times, becomes extinct exactly at the moment the camera is capable of making it possible to not find an example of such a creature.

The date of 1838 in my title refers to the generally agreed upon date for the invention of the camera for wide-use.

–Sue Johnson

Rabbit bush (extinct, last spotted 1838)
intaglio print