Emmalee Johnson-Kao

Smirnoff1000, 2018

Acrylic paint, aerosol, and paint pen on wall, various found materials

TV Head, 2018

Color SD video
Running time: 10:15, Excerpt: 2:11

Smirnoff1000, 2018

Acrylic paint, aerosol, and paint pen on wall, various found materials

Smirnoff1000, 2018

Acrylic paint, aerosol, and paint pen on wall, various found materials

Rat Rainbow, 2019

Acrylic paint, whiteout, hair, wire, found objects

Artist Statement

I live the majority of my life in a state of nostalgia. Nostalgia has manifested as the romanticization of trauma for me, I definitely like to think that drinking sidewalk slams (4 Loko + malt liquor 40 oz) and making out with a lot of dumb Oakland boys was a poetic thing. I make 2D, installation, and video work to put my thinking cap on and figure out what my memories really are. I love cartoons, especially Gumby because he is malleable and can shapeshift. I feel like that sometimes. I hope to be more like Gumby. I work in installation, painting and video to make art that feels like the uncanniness of the “Gumby and Pokey” cartoons- familiar/comforting and gross/unfamiliar at the same time.

 

I am interested in the connection between the uncanny and adolescence: the time period when the tension between the uncomfortable and familiar peaks. Teenagers are simultaneously repressed and empowered, constantly in a state of discovery. Their way of perceiving is in an aesthetic (rather than anaesthetic) mode. This is the thing I loved about adolescence and I translate that attitude in my work. I am interested in the nostalgia as the transformation of memory and how it melts, grows, and becomes shinier as time goes on. This transformation of memory from traumatic to glamorized is a method of coping that I try to undo in my work. I combine the imagery of cartoons from my childhood, sexual themes, and archives from my adolescence, creating tension between romance and trauma in a way that communicates the connection between uncanny and nostalgia.

 

I employ projection, additive, and reductive processes to portray fantasy in terms of the body. The femme body is often fantasized for other people, but by abstracting and projecting I can control what is being imagined and played out in an internal way, concealing and projecting what I want. By using my own body to explore the overlap between violence and intimacy in literal mark-making, such as tattooing and projection, I can reclaim my space and body in an ongoing project to reorient myself. I also create spaces through an installation that memorialize my own adolescent past with colorful and sometimes disturbing mural work.