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Signal Fire and Todd Johnson

February 24 - April 3, 2013

Wood Anniversary: Five Years of Signal Fire
Todd Johnson — The Misadventures of Ansel Adams:
Garage Sales, Geo Tracking, and General Tomfoolery

Signal Fire was co-founded by artist Ryan Pierce and forest conservation and public lands advocate Amy Harwood. It provides opportunities for artists and activists to engage in the natural world. The Art Gym exhibition presents the work of 13 artists including Miguel Arzabe, Zachary Davis, Dan Gilsdorf, April Marie Hale, Ellie Irons, Kendra Larson, Guillaume Légaré, Sarah Meadows, Rebecca Najdowski, Jennifer O'Keeffe, Julie Perini, Kyle Riedel and Jillian Vento.

Todd Johnson's exhibition The Misadventures of Ansel Adams: Garage Sales, Geo Tracking, and General Tomfoolery includes phototographs and video in a lighthearted examination of the influence of the inescapable legendary photographer Ansel Adams, combined with thoughts about provenance, portraiture, imposters, and fakes.

- Terri M. Hopkins, Director and Curator, The Art Gym

More about Signal Fire
Art is so often an urban endeavor that I frequently find myself wondering, "Where is the art about and from rural and wild America?" So when the organization Signal Fire came to my attention a few years ago, I was intrigued.

Signal Fire was founded by artist Ryan Pierce and public lands activist Amy Harwood five years ago as a way to connect artists and writers to wild places. They started by asking six artists to help vet their idea, inviting them to spend a week solo in a renovated travel trailer in Mt. Hood National Forest. The second year they switched to organizing trips for small groups, bought their signature wall tents and began attracting what has become a strong pool of applicants from the United States and abroad.

Signal Fire has now hosted nearly 100 artists, musicians, writers and activists on camping, backpacking and most recently river trips. Participants have explored Oregon's wealth of public lands, from the old growth forests of Opal Creek to the subalpine lakes of the Wallowa Mountains. Last year Pierce and Harwood added a float trip on the Green River in Utah and this year Signal Fire trips range across the Western United States, from the California mountains and deserts to New Mexico, Montana, and home to Mt. Hood.

Wood Anniversary: Five Years of Signal Fire presents the work of 13 of the visual artists who have participated in Signal Fire and gives an overview of some of the ways artists have taken advantage of this opportunity to work and think outdoors.

Some of the art The Art Gym is exhibiting was created or initiated during the residencies. Canadian artist Guillaume Légaré created pairs of photographs to examine the often-humorous visual interface between the eastern Oregon town of La Grande and its surrounding public and private lands. Kyle Riedel made photographs that underscore the innate grandeur of the old growth stumps found along the Upper Clackamas River. Jennifer O'Keeffe's images document the shifting scale of sights and experiences from the Signal Fire canoe expedition through Canyonlands National Park in Utah.

Other artworks relate in various ways to the experience of the residencies, but were realized later — Sarah Meadows's diptychs that sought to capture the ethereal effects of light, smoke and water; Julie Perini's video of the 306 steps that mark the climb from downtown Guanajuato up El Pipila, one of the mountains on which the Mexican city was built; Kendra Larson's paintings of woods near Sisters and trails in Portland's Forest Park; Ellie Irons's illustrations and maps of invasive plant species made from pigments derived from those same species collected in and near her home in Brooklyn, New York; and Montana-based April Marie Hale's sculptures made with animal skulls, antlers, felted wool, and seeds.

Some artists responded to the residencies with technology — Miguel Arzabe's videos instigating and documenting playful interventions in the Eastern Oregon landscape; Rebecca Najdowski's augmented reality projects using QR codes and the internet (she has created a new piece for Marylhurst University); and Zachary Davis's inventive, technological alterations and explorations of landscape imagery.

In contrast, others anticipated lack of access to technology or commented on its unexpected ubiquity. Dan Gilsdorf brought a manual typewriter and used it to create texts that one might create if one had nothing to do but think about art making and type on 8.5 x 11 in. sheets of white paper for days at a time; Jillian Vento paired wildlife drawings with sketches of the related text messages on her cell phone.

The exhibition gives viewers a chance to consider what Signal Fire has offered artists and what they have created in response. So far.

— Terri M. Hopkins, Director and Curator, The Art Gym
Oregonian Review
Oregon Arts Watch Report

More about Todd Johnson — The Misadventures of Ansel Adams: Garage Sales, Geo Tracking and General Tomfoolery
Todd Johnson's exhibition reflects his interests in the history of West Coast landscape photography, celebrity, collecting and, as he puts it, "myth and legend, identity and fraud, historical and contemporary, amateur and professional, junk and treasure." The artist is presenting a selection of photographs and one video that play with these ideas, using the work and celebrity of legendary photographer Ansel Adams as his touchstone.

Johnson has his master of fine arts in photography from the San Francisco Art Institute. Ansel Adams and Minor White founded the fine arts photography department at the school in 1946. Their work along with other seminal 20th-century American photographers who taught at SFAI constituted a critical point/counterpoint in the SFAI curriculum for many years.

— Terri M. Hopkins, Director and Curator, The Art Gym

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