Wednesday, June 24, 2020

215. Erin Johnson } “Lake (Skowhegan, ME)” 2020

Is it queer to float together in a lake?

18 artists (“a group of friends, peers, and lovers”), video-recorded by a drone, (mostly) float on their backs in Lake George, a lake in Skowhegan, Maine. Clustered & centered, the artists tend to float apart. (The artist who, at the video’s start, floats at the heart of the cluster, floats furthest from the group—gradually off-screen.) The artists wear bathing suits; most of the suits are black or black & white; half are one-piece. A turquoise one-piece, a yellow & pale blue two-piece, & black & neon-green swimsuits stand out—amongst the group & against the background—

the lake. The lake appears black. & gray where it ripples.

“Lake (Skowhegan, ME)” is currently part of Unnamed for Decades, an exhibition of Johnson’s work at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art. “Lake”—a 4:30 min. video—is projected in a dark room on a single screen. Two other videos—“Tomatoes (Skowhegan, ME)” & “There are things in this world that have yet to be named”—accompany “Lake” in the exhibition. “Tomatoes” is a three-channel video w/ a rhythm of repeated moments; people eating & holding bright red tomatoes. “There are things…” shows Bucknell University’s Solanum plastisexum lab & the Australia section in Los Angeles’s Huntington Botanical Garden. Passages from love letters between Rachel Carson & Dorothy Freeman are read & the phrase “there are things in this world that have yet to be named” is chanted.

Accompanying the show is this explanatory text:

In an adjacent series of photographs and video installations, a group of friends, peers, and lovers engage in collective queer and desirous exchanges such as eating tomatoes in a field and floating together in a lake.
“Tomatoes” = “desirous exchanges” I suppose; “There are things…”—w/ gender-fluid plants & the text between two women in an indefinable relationship clearly is interested in queer exchanges. “Lake,” however? Read “In [a] video [installation], a group of friends, peers, and lovers engage in collective queer and desirous exchanges such as… floating together in a lake.”
Such as floating together in a lake?

“Lake” strikes me as transcendently free of desire; free from ideological labelling.

I read the term “queer” as welcoming & wide open, so by all means floating together in a lake can be queer, but it can also not be queer.

Erin Johnson’s videos are subtler & stranger than the explanatory texts that accompany them. Watch any of the three videos & you’ll see how frustratingly reductive the texts are. Possibly written by a curator, possibly written by Johnson herself (likely the case—a nearly word-for-word description accompanied the same exhibition—under a different name [Nightshade] at the Iris Project), I suggest viewing & not reading—it is, after all, a video & thus meant to be looked at. I find it both calming & mysterious.

“Lake” ought to be watched on a big screen in a dark gallery—alone. Unfortunately, we can’t do that now. But we can watch it on Johnson’s website where there is no artist or curator’s statement to undermine its power.