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Angela Johnson, Art & DNA

Angela Johnson, who sees the magnificence of art in science, recently participated in a exhibition of photographs by students of The University of Wisconsin at Madison.


Asked to talk about the two works of art selected for the show, the concept behind them, and what’s coming up next for her artistically and/or scientifically, Angela offered the following:

Ok, here is the scoop! In prepping for my MFA show (opening on Friday March 4th at Central Public Library in Madison, WI) I am exploring themes of genealogy, genetics, and memory.

These two pieces are mock-ups of pieces that will hang in the show. The photos are enlarged prints of my great grandparents and great-great-grandparents on their wedding days in 1880 and 1900. The images are mounted on plexiglass and installed into slits inside the cedar shadow boxes. I designed the boxes and my boyfriend Justin made them for me.

DNA protein gels printed on film are sandwiched between plexiglass and slid into another slot in the box in front of the family photos. Color changing LED lights were mounted to the back of the inside of the box. They are best presented in a dark space as its easier to see the color change happening.

In the gallery last week it was more of a subtle change folks would notice after a few seconds. The lights are on a remote control and can be brightened, dimmed, go faster or slower. I want to have a few more things happening in the next boxes, 3-5 layers as apposed to 2.

When the color changes it either brings forward the DNA or shows the images more clearly and then blends the two. The colors give off different feelings too and I was thinking about different times in peoples’ lives which are represented by different colors/moods, circumstances, etc.

My overall goal for the show is to have a Victorian/Cabinet of Curiosity feel to it. Next pieces include trying image transfers/printing on mirrors, building a cabinet of curiosity (designing it and Justin will build it for me) and putting objects in it that are stand-ins for family members who have passed away and for family members still living. The zoology dept may let me borrow a few mammal specimens too!

I’m also going to do a salon style wall of lumen prints, some fixed and some not, so you will see how they darken and change over time (showing that nothing is permanent as well as the passage of time.) There may be some etched glass writing pieces and maybe a 3D family tree. The show will be up for 2 months.

I got into a juried show at the library and decided to call it my MFA show, happy my committee is good with it! Also I am going to do some family hands-on workshops during the time the show is up, so hopefully that will increase my changes of getting student grant funding for the show! That’s all I can think of for now.

I would love to hear feedback on this concept, ideas and execution.

Oh, I forgot to mention that the cedar wood was an intentional choice to act as a memory of my grandmother’s cedar chest and cedar closet.


Now you know why we call Angela, “CrackerJack.”  She is always full of surprises!


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