UT alumna infuses science, poetry in new exhibit

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Bethany Johnson stands in front of her installation piece at Laguna Gloria titled Rain Collection I: Year of Rain. The piece was meticulously created by exposing soot-covered sheets of glass to rain for 60-second intervals.

Photo Credit: Pearce Murphy | Daily Texan Staff

In the hills of Austin at the Austin Museum of Art’s Laguna Gloria location lies a new method of drawing by local artist Bethany Johnson. Several plates of glass, splattered and misted with black, white and grey hang suspended in the air for interpretation. 

This novel form of drawing was created by infusing ideas from philosophy, science, poetry and history. The most intriguing element of Johnson’s creation is the medium through which it was created. 

“Each of these captures one minute of one rainfall in Austin. To prepare, I would coat a sheet of glass with soot from an oil lamp, and when it rained, I would put it out for sixty seconds,” Johnson said. 

This approach created a fresh look into the studies of rain and science with the impression each raindrop created on the soot. Titled “Rain Collection I: Year of Rain,” Johnson dedicated an entire year to creating the record of art. 

Generated by a combination of spontaneity and intervention, philosophy professor Kathleen M. Higgins believes chance plays a large role in Johnson’s collection. 

“An aspect in my work and teaching is existentialism. And the point in contact with Bethany’s work is the idea of contingency,” Higgins said. 

Johnson’s art was created in such a way that, while her opportunities to create were outside of her control, her opportunity to intervene the cycle of rain was in her hands. While the theme of chance and contingency is present, Johnson believes there is more to her art than just chance. 

“That’s something I think is really interesting about weather as a subject. It deals with chance, but where we might perceive things as random, I don’t think really is random — just overwhelmingly complex,” Johnson said.

The intricacy of Johnson’s work emerges through the images each sheet of glass created. One slide may instill the wonder of outer space, while another grounds you with an earthly appearance of granite. Johnson expressed the way in which her collection is filled with wonder and how it displays nature’s beauty. 

“I think what’s interesting about the patterns these raindrops create is that they duplicate patterns that happen in nature at different scales, or with different materials,” Johnson said. “Some of them can look like vast, galactic spaces, and others have said they look like microscopic slides.” 

A collection filled with wonder and inspired by historical, pre-scientific methods, Higgins felt inspired by the work. 

“Bethany’s art is like a haiku. It gives you little bits of information, yet it’s very evocative,” Higgins said. “Contingently, we are reminded this particular thing happened at this particular moment. But that’s sort of like all of our experience, and I think it has a poetic residence.” 

Studio art senior Katie Rose Pipkin said she viewed the collection with awe. Pipkin believes an intriguing piece of Johnson’s work is the idea of perfection. 

“I appreciate her dedication to embracing things the way they are. Her work is about believing in innate perfection; that there is nothing to fix, improve or edit. It is what it is. That in itself is perfect,” Pipkin said.

A display of how chance and spontaneity intermingles with the intervention of life and living, Johnson’s collection is an intellectual experience.  

“My work inhabits the middle ground between scientific and poetic, impulsive and personal, with the rigid and systematic,” Johnson said. 

Johnson’s collection, along with artist Ann Tarantino’s work, will be available to view at Laguna Gloria through Feb. 17 in the exhibition “ShapeShifting.”