Charlotte Johannesson

An artwork by Charlotte Johannesson.
  • Charlotte Johannesson, Digital Human, 1981 - 1986, Computer graphics plotted on paper, 23.5 x 31.5 cm, © Charlotte Johannesson. Image courtesy the artist and Hollybush Gardens, London.

The work of Charlotte Johannesson (b.1943, Sweden) represents a synthesis between the artisanal and the digital. Over the past 50 years, she has explored the formal and conceptual connections between the craft technology of the loom and the digital technology of computer programming. From the outset, Johannesson saw ‘great synchronicity between the two machines’ that became her tools for making images.

Largely self-taught as an artist, Johannesson trained as a weaver in the late 1960s. At a time when textiles were seen as a decorative craft, she was instead interested in their potential as a medium of protest. As she recalls, ‘I was interested in the real world – in politics. This was the reality that struck me’. Indeed, her woven images reflect the social and political dissent of the time: 1960s counterculture, feminism, punk, and the militant activism of the 1970s.

In 1978, Johannesson traded a weaving for an early version of the personal computer. She taught herself to program so she could make graphics for the screen – a time-consuming process that she had to figure out for herself. Johannesson’s graphics drew on a wide repertoire of motifs: some are strangely ethereal and almost abstract, while others anticipate our new dependence on communication technologies and the networked nature of the internet. From 1981 to 1985, Johannesson and her partner Sture ran the Digital Theatre, Scandinavia’s first digital arts laboratory.

This exhibition brings together textiles, digital graphics, plotter prints, paintings and screenprints made over the past 50 years. Image, pattern, colour, texture, material and language recur and play out across time and different mediums. The survey brings handmade paper works from the early 1990s, presented here for the first time, into conversation with new experiments in lace made especially for this exhibition. It proposes that these little-known facets of Johannesson’s work might be understood in connection with the rest of her practice as a form of what she calls ‘fibre art’. But more than anything, this exhibition underscores the politically and artistically radical nature of her work, positioning her as a forerunner of today’s post-feminist and digital art.

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