As Australia busily aspires to the culturally external, partially as a means of deflecting an objectionable past, itâ€™s nice to imagine that in everyday spaces which pass unnoticed under the broader frameworks defining the Australian â€˜Nationâ€™, new cultural possibilities are flourishing. The crystallisation of occurrences into cultural signifiers (via belief) is a source of fascination for me, as are the dynamics of cultural production in a society such as ours. How many of us are comfortable with the prefabricated notions of Australia borne from the argot of our colonialism? It is mindblowing to consider the changes this continent has undergone during the past 216 years; the prolific agricultural and urban developments, the suburban sprawl bleeding ever outwards, the â€˜lifestyleâ€™, all grafting themselves onto an ever-intractable landscape. Here an attempt is being made to recontextualise and re-activate cultural signifiers and artefacts, unravelling the complex systems of meaning which define Australian identity and reconfiguring the iconography by which Australia imagines itself. Using large-scale wall painting, intimately detailed drawings, installed constructions and sound, my work negotiates a world where the individualistic outlooks of high consumerism interact with the heterologous systems of nature - which is to say, systems whose complex levels of exchange place them beyond the grasp of rational logic - resulting in a collapse of conventional meaning, usurped by feeling, intuition. Through my work I seek to encourage a renewed appreciation of the natural, to step outside the Capitalist systems of rational consumption and conservation of products.
In depth research turns up images of nature which have undergone heavy cultural encodings, and attempts are made to unravel and re-combine their meanings. Underpinning the work is an examination of the way in which the sphere of "landscape" interacts with the sphere of "culture" within the realm of human understanding - providing a framework for the questioning of our environment as a presumed "other".
Recently my work has focussed on considering ways in which notions of "wild" Australia have been produced and perpetuated, and the ways in which these notions manifest in our contemporary cultural outlook - not least being the tendency to outsource our cultural interests. Specifically I have addressed the colonial cultural heritage of fearing the native landscape, and the ensuing sense of disconnection which plays a major role in an increasingly unsustainable existence - not only for Australia, but for a post-colonial world.
Helen Johnson completed a BA Honours (First Class) in Painting at RMIT in 2002. Her solo exhibitions have included Not to be confused with the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show (with Kylie Forbes), CLUBSproject Inc., Melbourne 2005; Like theatre, like perfume they are dreaming of themselves, Studio 12, Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, Melbourne 2004; You must have been in strange places, West Space, Melbourne 2004; and Live at the Obelisk, Bus, Melbourne 2004. Group exhibitions include You must have been in strange places, Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, Melbourne 2005; Slave 3, VCA Gallery, Melbourne 2005; All about us, Arts Victoria, Melbourne 2005; Smash Your Own Windows, CLUBSproject, Melbourne 2004; and The Bunyip at the Threshold (with Matthew Brown), CLUBSproject, Melbourne 2003. Helen has undertaken several curatorial projects and is currently the curator of Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces' 2005 Slide program. She has also participated in a number of film screenings including A Fistful of Films, Darwin Fringe Festival, Darwin 2003, and Moving Image Coalition, Cinema Nova, Melbourne 2003. Helen's writing has been published in Natural Selection, un Magazine, and several catalogue essays.