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Exhibition: Hall of Portraits from The History of Machines – Sue Johnson

March 20 @ 12:00 PM - June 6 @ 5:00 PM EDT

From the event organizer:
Hall of Portraits from The History of Machines proposes an alternate pictorial history rooted in the mid-20th century where Johnson explores the evolution of the modern woman. Her work exposes parallels in the cornerstone moment when women began to be idealized for machine-like efficiency and when industrial progress envisioned domestic machines, such as vacuum cleaners, sewing machines, dishwashers, and telephones to provide labor-saving solutions. Drawing on a collection of vintage advertisements and editorial fashion pages, Johnson merges commodification with objectification by melding household convenience objects with the emergent female form; in result, creating a dream-like experience that transports the viewer into a world full of hybrid women provocatively suspended in mid-transformation.

Johnson’s work is imbued with historical references. Traditionally a “hall of portraits” is known to showcase families or a country’s famous heroes. In those portraits, the sitter is often surrounded by objects associated with their attributes. A “history of machines” typically depicts mechanical objects in such a way that makes them attractive to a customer, while showing progress and innovation. Combining the two terms in the project’s title adds a layer to the unsettling amalgamation of women with inanimate objects.

The portraits begin as original, digital collages that combine sources from mid-century advertisements and photographs of vintage objects. The collages are then commercially printed onto canvas followed by hand-painted layers of acrylic paint. Images of the new women are purposely not painted in Johnson’s own hand but rather are constructed from a combination of photographic sources to retain the authenticity of the source material. The color-fields that surround each portrait are achieved by imprinting everyday household objects such as paper towels, coffee filters, and household textiles into the paint to create a conceptual windowpane.

The intention of color extends into the exhibition environment were shades of mauve purple, gold, and white signal the significance of the Women’s Suffrage Movement and the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment ratification celebrated last year. Popular colors of mid-century modern appliances are also referenced through the specific use of harvest gold, turquoise blue, and avocado green.

New Works from Hall of Portraits from The History of Machines serves as a visual satire for constructive social criticism. The archival materials and objects, though mostly made between 1940 and 1970, have contemporary relevance. Johnson’s implication of superhumanity holds irony and explores a narrative in which women have been constructed to be both the consumer and the consumed. By exploring the power of the woman and how they have shaped history, the exhibition aims to inspire and contribute toward an ever-changing, forward-looking future.
Friday – Sunday 12:00pm-5:00pm (Subject to change)
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March 20 @ 12:00 PM EDT
June 6 @ 5:00 PM EDT
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Workhouse Arts Center
9518 Workhouse Way
Lorton, VA 22079 United States
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