12 January 2012

Interview: Michael Johansson, Swedish Contemporary Artist

The contemporary art scene in Sweden is thriving and subsequently evolving. Swedish art & design has long since been characterised by an adherence to form and function, resulting in starkly beautiful results that scintillate with the elegence of simplicity. There are few countries with such an indiosyncratic design aesthetic, but many of the contemporary artists in Sweden are producing new, unique and exciting work. PINCH caught up with Michael Johansson, an artist impossible to pigeon-hole who is constantly challenging the traditional idea of Swedish design.

Q.YOUR WORK IS SO UNIQUE AND HARD TO CATEGORISE, BUT IT SEEMS TO MERGE CLEAN LINES AND FUNCTIONALITY LARGELY ASSOCIATED WITH TRADITIONAL SWEDISH DESIGN WITH A CLEAR CONTEMPORARY CREATIVE INFLUENCE AND AESTHETIC BEAUTY. WHERE DID THE PHILOSOPHY BEHIND THIS DESIGN AESTHETIC COME FROM?

A. In a way I have always considered what I do as kind of the opposite of design. I think of design as a mixture of form and function, and my main interest during the past years has been to separate objects from their function by taking them out of their normal context and turning them into solely elements of colour and shape.

I use daily life objects in the hope that recognizing the various things inside the sculpture, but seeing them in a different way than normal might make you stop for a second and reflect on what this might mean. And of course, aesthetics is another way to attract an initial interest.

Q. WHERE ARE YOUR FAVOURITE CITIES FOR ART AROUND THE GLOBE?

A. I am actually spending the fall as an artist-in-residence in Tokyo, which is an amazing place for experiencing art, among so many other things. It is pretty overwhelming, and I am still just scraping the surface. But I have always had a weak spot for Berlin, ever since I lived there in 2002. It might not be the most original city to come up with, but the special conditions that have prevailed there in recent years has been perfect for creating an interesting surrounding for art in many different ways. But there are still so many places I would like to visit, both to exhibit and for experiencing art.

Q. DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE MUSEUM OR GALLERY IN SWEDEN?

A. Sweden have a number of interesting institutions, for example Magasin 3 in Stockholm, presenting exhibitions with important internationally established artists. Where I live in Malmö, there is a good selection of institutions and galleries as well, despite it’s small population. For example Gallery Elastic has established a strong program over the last few years. Another of my favourite places in the past has been, Alma Löv Museum, located far out in the country side, but unfortunately they decided to close down last summer, but i’m sure it will continue in some way or another.

Q. ARE THERE ANY UP AND COMING SWEDISH ARTISTS WE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT?

A. Like in any other country, there are a lot of artists doing great work that don’t get the attention they deserve. And it is of course also not certain that an artist that is doing great at home has the same impact abroad, and the other way around. But if for example artists such as Christian Andersson, Kristina Matousch and Viktor Rosdahl have not yet been noticed in London, those are a few names to look out for.

Q. WHAT IS THE MAIN INSPIRATION BEHIND YOUR WORK?

A. My influences come from various sources. Of course one is the inspiration from other artists, but more so from irregular situations in daily life, particularly things I encounter in my close surroundings. It could be the same colours or patterns on two different objects, two people passing each other dressed in the same outfits, a parking space packed by only red cars or discovering that an actor is playing two different roles at the same time when switching between TV channels. These irregularities, or coincidences, are a great source of inspiration for me. I have also as long as I can remember been fascinated by flea markets. And in specific a fascination by walking around to find doubles of seemingly unique, though often useless objects I have already purchased at another flea market. There is something irresistible in the knowledge that if you don’t buy that particular object right away, the opportunity might never come back. I think the same rules compelling me to select things at flea markets are also central to my art practice, that you need to combine something very familiar with something very unique to create an interesting art experience.

Q. HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO SOURCE THE ITEMS THAT MAKE YOUR SCULPTURES AND INSTALLATIONS?

A. That of course depends quite a lot on the particular piece, but regardless of the character of the work the first problem to solve is always finding a suitable space to use as a starting point. I need that limitation to get started, an open space to fill. That space sets the framework for how the rest of the work will proceed, what kind of material that best suits that already existing environment in terms of colour, size and theme. When that is set I usually collect objects for a few weeks. Most of the things I use I find in various flea markets, but some of the objects are items I have carried with me for years.

Q. IF YOU HAD TO DESCRIBE YOUR WORK IN THREE WORDS, WHAT WOULD THEY BE?

A. Real life tetris.

Q. WHAT PART OF THE WORLD INSPIRES YOU MOST CREATIVELY?

A. I tend to be most inspired by small things happening in my close surrounding, things that you cannot predict.When leaving the safe realms of the surroundings you are used to, it is of course easier to realize how much of our daily life follows a certain pattern. The same thing is happening here in Tokyo as well. Of course the impressive architecture and crowded streets are making an impact, but the thing that intrigues me the most is realizing how people here have their own patterns. The particular way they store things in their garage, how they pack their groceries in the supermarket, etc. So I am not sure if it is a particular part of the world that inspires me most, but maybe more a particular part of the daily routine that feels most creative for me. Or sometimes, the lack of that routine.

Q. IN WHAT WAY DOES TRAVEL INSPIRE YOU AND YOUR WORK?

In many different ways, but maybe not in the way you get the impression by looking at my work. I do not think the reason why I want to bring a higher density to a stack of objects come from the will to transport them in a more efficient way, even though I am sure it has in some ways affected my ways to pack a suitcase. But I think a change of context is important in order to stay focused, and is essential both for the process of preparing new projects as well as for carrying them out. Like I mentioned earlier, it is very inspiring to be presented with a new set of patterns for how to live your life, just a few steps away from  your everyday safety net.

Johansson is currently exhibiting at the following spaces across Europe:

X-MAS 11
Group Exhibition, Galleri
Christoffer Egelund, Copenhagen (DK)
Dec 2, 2011- Jan 14, 2012

www.gce.nu

Bunker
Solo Exhibition
Kunstbanken, Hamar (NO)
Nov 19, 2011 – Jan 8, 2012

www.kunstbanken.no

Space Invaders
Group Exhibition
Nikolaj Kunsthal, Copenhagen (DK)
Nov 11, 2011 – Feb, 2012

www.kunsthallennikolaj.dk

Norsk Skulpturbiennale
Group Exhibition
Vigeland-museet, Oslo (NO)
Oct 27, 2011 – Jan 29, 2012

www.skulpturbiennale.no

By Lilee Cathcart

 

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