Merritt Johnson, Love Song (translation basket), life size, 2020 (handwoven palm fibre, stethoscope). Courtesy the artist and Accola Griefen Fine Art.

Merritt Johnson: Love Song

January 5 – April 22, 2021

Merritt Johnson’s artistic practice navigates the spaces between bodies and the body politic, land, and culture. Deeply invested in Indigenous self-determination and informed by necessity, her works foreground the urgency of socio-political transformation. Love Song is an online exhibition and artist’s publication that confront the violence of cis-hetero patriarchy, environmental exploitation, and white supremacy through the articulation of practice and the building of armatures that dismantle these logics.

Love Song collects a selection of videos from Johnson’s ongoing Exorcising America series, each engaging with an aspect of how the so-called Americas manifest sickness, and exert control and violence over land and bodies. Modelled on amateur, do-it-yourself instructional exercise videos, these works confront myriad systemic oppressions while acknowledging and celebrating the resilience and strength of resistance. Commissioned for this exhibition as the newest video in the series, Exorcising America: Conditioning Exercises references resistance-based workouts to insist that strength and power are not synonymous nor interdependent, and that conditioning for strength is necessary to dismantle power. Presented in the context of a university, these videos challenge institutional content, as well as the assumed relationship between education and access to elite infrastructures.

Love Song also documents the artist’s sculptural practice, specifically as activated through her material interventions into different kinds of technological apparatuses. Weaving VR goggles out of sweetgrass, or a fancy shawl out of tarpaulin, Johnson queries adjudications of value, proposing an amalgamation between different ways of knowing and being. 

Publication design: Vicky Lum
Publication illustrations: Francisco-Fernando Granados
Website development: Naomi Cui
Image descriptions: Cheryl Green

Merritt Johnson is a multidisciplinary artist and mother. She holds a BFA from Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh) and an MFA from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design (Boston). The multiplicity of materials and processes Johnson employs embody her multiplicity; navigating agency, layering, and allegiance to land, water, and culture.  Her ancestry is a mix of Kanien’keha:ká (Mohawk), Irish, Blackfoot, Jamaican, and Swedish; she is not a citizen of any of the nations from which she descends. She has exhibited throughout the Americas and in Europe.

Curated by cheyanne turions

[Image description: Against a simple white surface, a black and gold stethoscope. The ear tubes and ear tips are replaced by a palm fibre basket handwoven in the shape of life-sized over-the-ear noise cancelling headphones. This basket can serve to translate heartbeats into love songs. Light glints off of small gold cuffs along the rubber tubing of the stethoscope, and the tubing is gently curved so that the gold drum is set next to the woven headphones.]