Explosions, 2011

Sarah Anne Johnson (Canadian, born 1976)

Sarah Anne Johnson, Explosions, 2011, chromogenic print and photospotting ink, 27 7/8 x 42 in. Schwartz Art Collection, Harvard Business School, 2013.7.

In 2009, as part of an artist residency, Sarah Anne Johnson boarded a double-masted schooner and traveled in the Arctic Circle. “It was exotic, breathtakingly beautiful and sublime,” Johnson recounts. “It seemed so pristine and perfect, vast and strong, but also somehow delicate and fleeting. After such an experience, one can’t help speculating about the impact we have on this planet.” Her experience led to a new series of work, Arctic Wonderland, and this reflection: “We are in the process of creating irreparable damage to the earth and will soon have no choice but to gamble on increasingly dubious theories. A favorite theory of engineers as a last resort to stop global warming is the blocking out of the sun. With this body of work I have been assessing and questioning western ideas of progress, growth and innovation. What are we progressing toward? Where does innovation lead us? How big can we go? What will it mean for us to take over the sun? Not only for the environment, but also psychologically for us, what will that mean?” Johnson explored these concerns in the photographs she took during the expedition by variously painting, photoshopping, embossing, and printing on them “to create a more honest image. To show not just what I saw, but how I feel about what I saw.” The artist’s ink interventions, such as the addition of fireworks seen here, are meant to highlight the beauty of the landscape while also drawing attention to the way humans have altered it.