Charlotte Johannesson has been producing work centred on an intuitive practice of image creation for fifty years. At the crossroads of the weaving loom and emerging digital technologies, her oeuvre is guided by an anti-authoritarian approach that resonates with events and changes in the eras she has lived through. Her Friart retrospective Save as art ? puts the accent both on the different media she has explored and the coherence of themes and messages conveyed by her images.
During her training as weaver, Charlotte Johannesson discovered the work of Hannah Ryggen ( 1894-1970 ) and Ryggen’s tapestries with their expressive realism denouncing facist society. In Malmö in the 1960s Johannesson opened her studio Cannabis, named after the hemp plant used for the fibres for her works. The studio became a meeting place for the then thriving counter-cultural scene.
In 1978, fascinated by the similarities between the weaving loom and computer programming, Charlotte Johannesson swapped her textile artwork I’m no Angel ( 1972-1973 / 2017 ) for a very early personal computer, the Apple II. At that time, these still relatively scarce ma- chines were used to process information and text. Using a grant, Charlotte and her partner Sture Johannesson set up the Digital Theatre in 1981. The Digital Theatre was a platform for the research and development of ar- tistic digital projects and was described as one of the most advanced Apple II systems of its time. It included seven computers, printers, monitors and synthesisers. It would be operational until 1985.
Neither textile nor digital art were then seen as being part of the field of contemporary art. Retrospectively, the artist’s choices, which often went against the current, strengthened the sense of a work in which feminism was allied with new technologies, making the artist a pioneer of post-digital art.
Charlotte Johannesson ( born 1943 in Sweden) lives and works in Skanör, Sweden. She is represented by the gallery Hollybush Gardens in London.
The exhibition at Friart Save as art ? follows her partici- pation in the Venice Biennale in 2022 and her recent re- trospectives at Nottingham Contemporary (2023), the Badischer Kunstverein (2022) and the Reina Sofia Mu- seum in Madrid (2021). This exhibition marks the redis- covery of a self-taught artist whose career has largely taken place on the fringes of the official art system.
The main exhibition space on the ground floor presents a broad selection of the textile works dating from the 1970s. The images resulting from collisions between slogans and reappropriated symbols create semantic games engaging with the chaotic political events of the time. On several tapestries, a number refers to the im- position of the social security code attributed to each individual by the Swedish state. In No choice amongst the stinking fish ( 1970 / 2016 ), we see personifications of the political parties of the time. Chile echoes in my Scull ( 1973 / 2016 ) evokes the Chilean coup d’état of 1973, while Freie Die Raf ( 1976 ) echoed the Baader Meinhof affair.
These graphic and satirical works comment on the blurring of the lines between information and media propaganda, as witnessed within liberal politics, the mediatised landscape of terrorism and the punk and industrial culture of the 1970s. Demonstrating resistance rather than direct militancy, the artist used the medium of textiles to open up a space that conflated agit prop and domestic creativity. The interlaced fibres took on the role of a feminist code par excellence, a minor key material subversion of the violence of unequivocal meaning.
Matter and memories. A selection of more recent works are exhibited on the first floor. Crochet and paper enrich a practice the artist calls « fiber art ». Native digital motifs serve as source code for the production of new tapestries ( 57-64 ). The artist’s paintings on the long wall at the back give a more natural or cosmic dimension to her work as a whole. Their messages in the form of poetic art ( More Matter, Less Art, 2018 ; POETS TELL MANY LIES, 2020-2021 ) enter into dialogue with the early textile works Longing ( c. 1970 ) and Worth a World of Arguments ( c. 1970 ). This urge to break away, a love for liberty.
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