Field Notes &
Notes For An Emergency
Bethany Johnson’s series “Notes For An Emergency” merges the unsettling sense of ambiguity of the unknown with the certainty found in scientific data and visual charts. Black and white images of landscapes and waterscapes are spliced against metric markings, graphs, and quantitative data. Each piece seems to invoke a strong displaced feeling and a desire to make sense of knowing you feel something, but without knowing how.
This compelling and confusing state of mind is something that is prevalent in most of Johnson’s work. In her series “Field Notes,” the images are informed by deliberate and metric methods. Landscapes emerge from painstaking horizontal and vertical lines, as Johnson carefully marks the paper with ink. Each piece is made with precision, careful spacing, and premeditated systems of mark marking. It reads like topographic maps or a visual of changing barometric pressures.
Like the meditative, algorithmic markings of Agnes Martin’s paintings, Johnson’s work leaves us with an immense feeling of peace and a lingering melancholy—perhaps rooted in the nostalgia her scientific results create. I recall red and blue lined writing paper and the rudimentary computer printing quality of the early 80s and 90s. Among this emotional potency also emanates a passionate love for visual data, the natural world, and the sense of order that comes from carefully gleaned information.
Bethany Johnson received her MFA from the University of Texas, Austin, in 2011. She currently teaches at the University of Texas, Austin, in the Department of Art and Art history.