Mapping the Territory

By George Mogg

Ian Johnson’s new body of work is an installation of his Level Paintings, which use both colour and monochrome acrylic enamel paint on plywood panels. The visual language of Johnson’s work brings to mind imagery associated with records, charts and graphs.  Timelines are suggested by the number of metal bars inserted into each panel for example 52 (weeks), 28-31 (days), 24 (hours).  His work refers to measuring tools and devices but where a wall chart might usually exist to measure change, growth or the passing of time, Johnson’s timelines appear to be an abstract record of unknown strata. The elongated vertical panels of striped colours perhaps depict a cross-section of an imaginary terrain.  Within a single painting, smaller groups of coloured sections convey an impression of concise abstract landscapes stacked one on top of one another.

Using the language of minimalism and its associated economy of form and material, Level Paintings have been created from ‘off-cut’ plywood panels, used primarily as supports for cutting timber lengths into sections. The panels Johnson has used have acquired a ‘ready-made’ surface, scored by multiple saw cuts through the supported timber. The panels are then cut to varying lengths and industrial spray paint applied, creating a slick and sumptuous colour field within each component.

The title for Johnson’s installation is a reference to a quote by Alfred Korzybski; “The map is not the territory.”[1] By using the title Mapping the Territory for this installation, Johnson suggests to the viewer that we are looking at a survey of sorts- these collective works provide an impression of a terrain, by contributing to a visual chart of a landscape. Both Korzybski’s quote and Johnson’s installation remind the viewer that they are in the presence of a collection of carefully selected and edited symbols, which combine to create a metaphor for a landscape that is an abstraction of an otherwise un-reachable place.

[1] The expression “the map is not the territory” appeared in print in a paper that Alfred Korzybski gave at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1931.


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