Home » VoCA Recommends: Sarah Anne Johnson at the AGO, Toronto

VoCA Recommends: Sarah Anne Johnson at the AGO, Toronto

Sarah Anne Johnson: House on Fire
Art Gallery on Ontario, Toronto
July 4 – 23 August, 2009

Sarah Anne Johnson, House on Fire, 2008, Chromogenic Print. Image: bulgergallery.com

Winnpeg-based artist, Yale grad and 2008 Grange Prize winner Sarah Anne Johnson debuts a new exhibition titled House on Fire at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

The last time we saw Johnson’s work, it was 2007’s Galapagos Project at Toronto’s Stephen Bulger Gallery. We loved her use of different media including sculpture and photography, and the push-pull between them.

Sarah Anne Johnson, Lost, 2006, chromogenic print. Image: saulgallery.com

Sarah Anne Johnson, Mud Portrait #2, 2006, gelatin silver print. Image: saulgallery.com

House on Fire explores the story of Johnson’s grandmother’s unwitting participation and mistreatment in a CIA research program in Montreal in the mid-1950s. The exhibition features a series of personal photographs of Johnson and her grandmother augmented with drawings in pencil and paint, as well as nine small bronzes and a new sculptural work, a doll’s house.

Johnson’s maternal grandmother was one of the patients in the care of Dr. Ewen Cameron in Montreal, who were unknowingly subjected to a series of mind-control experiments including shock and drug therapies and medically induced prolonged sleep. In 1977, the family discovered what had happened and went to court, settling with the CIA out of court in 1988.

Click HERE for the New York Times Review, where Roberta Smith calls Johnson’s work “outstanding”, and HERE for the AGO website.

3 Responses to “VoCA Recommends: Sarah Anne Johnson at the AGO, Toronto”

  1. Dear Sarah Anne,

    As a survivor of MKULTRA, I gratefully applaud you for making a statement through your art on the subject of non-consensual governmental mind control experimentation.

    Other than your grandmother and the other Canadian victims, there are many survivors whose voices will never be heard. Thank you for honoring the memory of your grandmother and giving the surviving victims the audience needed. I pray that through your focus via, “House on Fire” that the atrocity of MKULTRA receives the international attendtion that is deserved.

    Thank you for what you are doing and what a respectful way to remember your grandmother.


    Madaline E. States

  2. Carol Lawlor says:

    Hello Sarah Anne:

    Congratulations on your exhibition “House on Fire”. It brought back many memories of my days as a young student nurse at the Allan Memorial Institute in the early 1960s. Working in the Sleep Room left an indelible impression on me for four decades.

    I have recently written and published a novel titled
    “Lost Souls” based on the historical psychiatric events that took place at the institute in the late 1950s and early 1960s. If you are interested, I could send you a copy of my novel.

    Carol Lawlor

  3. Rebecca Commisso says:

    I am deeply haunted by your exhibit. I do not know anything about art, but when I read a review of the AGO exhibit, I knew I had to go and see it for myself. I cannot believe these things happened to your family, but I am moved by the way you tell your story. It proves my theory that terrible atrocities play out in generations beyond the original sufferer. Your family must be very proud of you for honouring your grandmother in this way. I would be. I will follow your work now, as I am curious about what else you have to say.

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