Swedish artist Charlotte Johannesson trained as a weaver in the 60s and started to make tapestries as art in 1970. Fascinated by the relationship between computer programming and advanced pattern construction on graph paper, Johannesson used the loom to produce pixelated images referencing punk culture and the social-political climate of the time. Her method of working synthesises digital and artisanal techniques to create pieces inhabiting an intervallic and transitory space. Traversing conventional gender roles, the domestic and public, analogue and digital, her practice sits within both social and political registers.
Johannesson was influenced by the work of Hannah Ryggen, a mid-20th-century Swedish-Norwegian artist who advocated weaving as a medium for social satire and the successor of large format history paintings. Like Ryggen, Johannesson’s textiles combine images and text to convey political statements engaging with feminist causes and global events. The tapestry Terror, 1970, included in this exhibition, speaks of a turbulent time – Rudi Dutschke, a prominent left-wing spokesperson of the German student movement, survived an assassination attempt in 1968, Londonderry was unstable, and Bernadette Devlin was incarcerated in 1970.
In 1978 Johannesson decided to exchange one of her big weaves I am no angel for one of the first personal computers, an Apple II Plus, and teach herself how to programme. Together with her partner Sture Johannesson, she established Scandinavia’s first microcomputer graphics studio, The Digital Theatre (1981-85), at a time when graphics programmes did not exist. Her digital images, all made between 1982-85, have the same number of pixels as her loom – 239 pixels horizontally and 191 pixels on the vertical side.
Amongst the digital graphics in the exhibition are two portraits, one of David Bowie and another of Victoria Benedictsson, a legendary Swedish author who for a long time published under the pseudonym Ernst Ahlgren. The print To Space, an image of a space shuttle, speaks of Johannesson’s interest in our place in the universe. Walk 3 shows pixelated figures marching forward, suggestive of the constant human quest for knowledge.
The proximity between the artisanal digitalisation in Johannesson’s woven images with her digital works situates the 18th-century Jacquard loom in the same lineage as the computer, placing “women’s work” alongside rational science. Like the interlacing threads of tapestry’s materiality, Johannesson’s oeuvre challenges conventions by crossing the analogue and the digital to reveal the strength underpinning its connections.
Charlotte Johannesson (b.1943 in Malmö, Sweden) lives and works in Skanör, Sweden. She has exhibited at Galerie S:t Petri, Lund; Konstmuseet, Ystad; Galleri Glemminge, Gelmmingebro; Galerie Green, Malmö; Dexter Bang Sinister; Kunsthalle Charlottenborg, Copenhagen; and Galleri Petra Lilja, Malmö. She has also participated in various group exhibitions including the Nordic Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2017; the 32nd São Paolo Biennale; the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven; Barbican Art Gallery, London; Göteborgs Konstmuseum; Norrköpings Konstmuseum; Museum of Modern Art, Toyama; Pratt Center, New York; Academy of Art College Gallery, San Francisco; Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris; Air Gallery, New York; Malmö Konsthall; and Kulturhuset, Stockholm. Johannesson was awarded the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts scholarship in 1976. In 2016, she was a laureate of the Aase & Richard Björklund Fund.Courtesy of the artist and Hollybush Gardens. Photo: Andy Keate