For most of last year, Bethany Johnson had what appeared to be the strange habit of storing plates of glass all around Austin. She stashed darkened pieces of glass at work, in her car, at her studio — just in case it rained.
"Rain is the most available part of the atmosphere," Johnson said recently. "It’s weather that falls on you.
Johnson wanted to explore that idea in her art, and that’s where the glass came in. Johnson had used an oil lamp to coat the glass with a layer of soot. Then every time it rained in 2012, Johnson would try to stop whatever she was doing at the time, grab one of her stashed, smoky panes of glass, and stick it out under the downpour.
You might picture her standing outside her day job at Wheatsville Co-op, glass plate in hand, as it rained on her. "My co-workers at the grocery store were like, ‘What is up?’"
The results of that work are on display through Feb. 17 at AMOA-Arthouse’s Laguna Gloria site, where Johnson shares a two-artist show, "ShapeShifting: New Methods of Drawing" with Ann Tarantino.
There are 50 of Johnson’s glass panes in all, suspended from the ceiling in the bright central room of the historic Driscoll Villa, where sunlight shines through the glass and makes the marks of raindrops appear like clusters of stars.
"Each one represents an individual rainfall," said Johnson.
Some of the panes came from the same day, but only if they were what she calls "separate episodes" of rain. They all represent about a minute of rain.
People see all kinds of natural patterns, created after the rain evaporated, in the work: starscapes, granite, lichen or a microscope’s slide.
"Nature repeats itself at different scales," Johnson said. This was one of the key insights of the project, that something as small as the scattered shower of raindrops can look for all the world like something as big as a galaxy.
Johnson borrowed the technique from the early days of meteorology, when true scientific study of weather was just beginning. And she used a second early technique, one that calls for putting out bread flour when it rains. They create solid little spheres, some bigger, some smaller, which she sifted out and collected in boxes according to each season. Summer, as you might expect, is not quite as full as the others.
"Weather is still unpredictable," Johnson said. "It’s this mundane, daily thing that represents the outer limits of our understanding." We’ve put people in space, but we still can’t predict the rain with more than a rough guess.
Also on view at Laguna Gloria are laser-cuttings that cover the french window panes with abstract patterns. The work by Pennsylvania’s Ann Tarantino lines the windows with marks that sometimes look like scars, and other times recall topographical maps, shining through in the light.