Remnant | Claire Johnson

Sat, February 9, 2019 to Sat, March 9, 2019

SMITH is delighted to present Claire Johnson’s second solo collection of works, Remnant, a further interrogation of the relationship between objects and meaning that tracks her fascination with the presence of absence.

This marks a progression from Johnson’s first solo at SMITH, 2017’s Changing Hands, a show devoted to the flattening, abstraction and separation of an object from its most literal meaning. Remnant turns towards the stories and secrets contained within negative space, focusing less on objects themselves than on the stories and impressions that shape our memory of them.

To describe her objects, Johnson treats our interaction with them as clues, but sees the remnants of an object as equally valid. That which is not included is regarded equally evocative and suggestive. Select works were inspired by stories of memorable or otherwise personal objects gathered via interviews with a range of subjects, from strangers to friends and colleagues. In the process Johnson unearthed her own personal narrative: a familial preoccupation with fabric that extended back generations.

Setting about to evaluate the storytelling value of these suggestive clues, Johnson studies the historical and narrative value embedded in said remnants. She asks: What can the things we select and choose to leave behind tell us about the objects that were selected and the people who made these choices? Is what is absent or neglected as informative as what is present and chosen?

“What is not there is as fascinating, and sometimes more fascinating to me, than what is’” says Johnson. “Something unsaid, a musical note withheld, the creases in a folded but unused handkerchief or the shadow of a pair of trousers flapping on the washing line - these details are as empirical as anything else. They are statements, if you like, that speak to what I believe to be a truer nature of objects, which are nothing definite or definable in and of themselves but subjects to the vagaries of our own differing perceptions.”

To this end, Johnson has produced her most varied collection to date, including paintings, video projections, a tapestry of found material, fabric work and sculpture. The intention is balance and contrast. The whimsy of memory meets the anchoring gravity of objects that serve to accommodate them in Loose Grip, her sculptural work of an oak lintel suspended by a chiffon sheet. Canvas paintings are framed with exposed fabric hanging like an untucked shirt suggesting that canvas, like clothing, is at first a fabric and a screen upon which we project and impose our own impressions - and tell our own stories.

Looking at the idea of absence having a strong storytelling ability Johnson was drawn to the ideas of French sculptor Christian Boltanski, who believed that objects, in a pertinent case personal belongings, lose their true value when they become separated from their owner. Yet the belongings themselves are evocative and speak to their own histories, their meaning shaped by our imagination of them. By studying them as clues, we become participants in crafting their meaning.

Here Johnson returns to familiar territory, abstracting her work as a means by which to invite viewers to forge their own meanings. Like Boltanski, Johnson sees objects as passive in and of themselves, reflectors rather than projectors of meaning.

With Remnant, Johnson is part archivist and part historian, piecing together a story from fragments of things and memories. Found objects and impressions are then hauled out of context, obstructed in their ability to speak for themselves. In other cases, the unearthed stories and memories are unaccompanied and ungalvanised by objects, existing as they do as Chinese whispers, passed on with cumulative abstraction over time.

Johnson says: “What do we make of memories that don’t have a conduit to anchor them in time and place? Are these any more or less reliable - and how do we represent them visually? My instinct was to try create something that looked the way it feels; with the weight of substance in competition with the flimsy nature of memory.”

Exhibiting a video installation looping the shadow of a pair of trousers flapping in the breeze, by repurposing the discarded fabric left aside after a garment is cut, or when studying the various folds in a selection of found handkerchiefs, Johnson treats the secondary and abstract as empirically valid. By providing ‘real world’ glimpses that speak sometimes directly and sometimes obliquely to the surrounding artworks, Johnson reiterates the notion that what isn’t apparent is as expressive as what is.

Remnant opens on 9 February, 2019 at 11h00 and will run until 9 March. For further enquiries or to set up and interview with the artist, please contact Jana Terblanche at