Interview with Michael Johansson: Something Different, Something Meaningful
Every day throughout the world, large quantities of rubbish are produced. Materials such as paper, plastic, glass, and electronic scrap fill dustbins and waste containers on a weekly basis. In addition to this, items and objects that no longer work are not repaired first as a rule, but immediately thrown away. Additionally, unused furniture, defective devices, and worn clothing cannot only be recycled but can be remodelled into new items. The principle of upcycling upgrades products aesthetically and ecologically and assigns them new functions. In contrast to the widely accepted cliché that upcycling is something to do with handicrafts, designers also work with these apparently useless materials.
The Swedish artist Michael Johansson, who lives and works alternately in Berlin and Malmö, is interested in used furniture and items, which he combines and converts into new objects for individual exhibitions as well as for public space installations. We have asked Michael Johansson some questions about his working principles and concepts. More information on the topic of upcycling can be found in form 261.
Your works are characterised by the use of used everyday objects like furniture, cases, electrical devices and containers. Why do you prefer to work with these disused objects?
The main reason as to why I mostly work with used everyday objects, is that I am interested in the history they withhold – that they have lived a life before I find them. Since each work contains hundreds of different objects, all found in different places, many lives are morphed together into a fake identity that never existed. This concentration of objects of different origins, into one imaginary image of a fabricated reality, is much more intriguing for me than the use of newly produced objects purchased at the local supermarket. It is something about the knowledge that there are only a limited number of these particular objects left that increases the unlikeliness of them being morphed together with such a precise fit.
What are your selection criteria for the objects? Where do you get them?
It is important for me that the objects within each work are connected on several levels, that not only the notions of colour and shape add up, but that the objects also make sense between themselves when it comes to qualities such as origin and spirit of time. So depending on the characteristics of the current situation, I search for objects to fit this specific context.
I find most of the objects I use for my work in different flea markets and second hand stores. In most cases I search for things around the area where I live, but if I make a work in for example Japan I usually spend some time in the beginning of the project to collect things I can use on site. I have also made a series of site-specific work within museums or galleries, where I borrow things found in the storage spaces of the institution for the duration of the exhibition.
What is the concept behind your installations?
When I first started using ordinary items in my work I wanted to separate the objects from their function by taking them out of their “normal” context so that they become solely elements of colour and shape – to put them to zero. It is still important to me that the items hidden within each work aren’t accessible the way we are used to, since this more or less forces us to look at them differently.
The most important thing I actively hope that people will bring away from a meeting with my work is the rediscovery of things you neglect after seeing them too often. Things so ordinary that you just don’t notice them any more. I want my work to break away from such daily patterns as a reminder of that it is possible to reinvent yourself without necessarily visiting new places. I know that I constantly need to be reminded about this myself, appreciating art by other artists which tricks me into looking at things with a new set of eyes. I hope my art can offer this to others as well.
Does the topic of upcycling play a role for your working process?
Most of the things I use aren’t useless, but unwanted. Things that could still have been part of peoples’ life if they didn’t choose to get rid of them. But since I use objects that originally were produced by someone else, by just combining them in a different way than they originally were meant to, I guess there is no way around that upcycling does play a role for my working process. But I don’t spend time during the production process thinking about weather the quality or value of the finished work necessarily will increase compared to where I started. My aim is to alter the items I use in a way so that I can present something new. Something different.