Karin Johansson - Soundtracks and the Abstractions of a City.

Interview  /  BehindTheScenes   Artists
Published: 05.05.2015
Karin Johansson - Soundtracks and the Abstractions of a City..
Sanna Svedestedt
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Imagine that you are walking down the street listening to a really good song in your head phones. That feeling is what’s lingering in Karin Johansson’s new body of work, Soundtrack - a wearable study of energy, flow and traces from a city. 
- I was looking for a feeling of freedom and movement in the Soundtrack series. I have been thinking about how we move in a city and what you see around you. In the city there are always fragments left behind on the ground – ribbons, candy wrapping and strings – as frozen moments, but there is still a movement to them, a kind of energy. These fragments inspire me. A treasure hunt, of sorts. That has been my starting point.

Do you ever use found objects?
No, I am not interested in using the specific materials that I find. For me it is more about the expressions, a spontaneous composition that I am searching for in my pieces.

I start by experimenting with materials. I find simple materials like plastic and aluminium very interesting in the way you can treat the surface and transformed it. I make a lot of components and different test pieces. I work until I have a palette of materials and I try them out in different compositions, often by using the camera.

Karin Johansson, necklace: Gustav, 2015. Aluminium, gold, acrylic
Photo by: elStudio

In the last series Abstractions of a City, I worked on the table, assembling the necklaces flat in the way I wanted them to be presented, like a blueprint of a town square. With Soundtrack I worked straight on to the body to get the right movement. Since the body was my workspace it was natural to photograph the pieces on models. It’s not easy to use models, you want people to look at the jewellery, not only the models faces, but I think these photos tuned out really well.

There is definitely a strong connection between the two series, as they are both referencing the city. In Abstractions of a City I worked off photographs and images, sometimes based on memories. I drew lines in the image and pulled colours from it, the images was in control. In Soundtrack I wanted to go more three dimensional, twisting and bending materials, trying to catch the impression of movement.

Do you consider walking around in the city a creative tool?
Sure, that could be a tool. It is not something I plan to do, it is more on a subconscious level, but it plays an important role in my work. I take notice of the things around me, perhaps more than other people. I sometimes think about that when I am in my studio and look down at the people passing by on the street below, no one has ever looked back up at me. So maybe I do look at my surroundings differently. It’s like when you have been to the same place as someone else but still seen totally different things. It doesn’t really matter if it is the city or the countryside, I take it in, both the large and the little things. For me it is just different types of space.

Nature is often a reoccurring theme and source reference for Nordic jewellery artists. In 2008 Karin started on the ongoing Butterflies Series, where the butterflies represent diversity and variations, rather than being symbols of nature.
- That was very interesting, people see so many different things in butterflies. For some it is a symbol of nature and other people asked why the exhibition was about death. The butterfly is connected to evanescence, life and death. For me this project was about of the act of collecting, rather than finding inspiration in the nature.

The nature for me is more a place to rewind and reboot on energy. I see nature as a large room, which can be both comforting and overwhelming at the same time, there is both the big and the small. I can also be inspired by the surfaces and structures that I see, but I find that everywhere. I am not interested in depicting nature. Perhaps it is because I grew up in the country side, that nature is just naturally a part of me.

Gothenburg is Karin’s hometown since late 80’s but she grew up in the Swedish countryside, just outside the small town of Värnamo. The area was also the home of several Swedish furniture brands, such as Källemo and Bruno Mathsson and well known for creative ingenuity.
- My father was a music teacher and a farmer. There was a lot of music around, he has perfect pitch and was a leader of an orchestra. We had a farm and some forestland. My mother was a stay at home mum, we were five kids. And all of us kids ended up having different jobs – doctor, accountant, and jeweller.

When I was a teenager, many of my friends were interested in arts and we encouraged each other. When living in a small place like that where there is not much happening, you don’t want to miss anything that is going on. I went to all the concerts and saw all the movies that came to the cinema. It also taught us to create what we wanted by ourselves, to make things happen. It was never odd to want to work in a creative field, many of my friends continued and are still working creatively.

Karin went to art school, focusing on drawing, painting and photography with an interest in working with graphic design and illustration. During a field trip to Gothenburg Karin was introduced to HDK, School of Design and Craft.
- It is hard to pin point why I decided on jewellery. I enjoyed making small scale three dimensional objects and wanted to learn more about techniques and materials. Actually I think it is a matter of deciding on one thing, developing that and try to make the most of it. And you might change direction later on in life, you never know, that depends on what life throws at you. Sometimes things happen in life that forces you to change path, and then you make the best out of that new situation. In a way that is quite thrilling.

Studio shot, Karin Johansson

When did you discover the international art jewellery scene?
That is hard to say. It was probably when I was still in school, but in a small dose. The New Jewelry by Ralph Turner was an important book for me as well as seeing the few jewellery exhibitions that came to Sweden at that time. I remember especially visiting the Helen Drutt Collection at the Röhsska museum. When we founded Hnoss in 1997 and started inviting international jewellery artists to come to Gothenburg an exhibit, that was a very important step as well.

Karin’s connection to HDK School of Art and Design in Gothenburg has been a long one, but it is not the same school today as it was in 1989 when Karin started as a student.
- It is the same address but two completely different schools, one could say. When I started the jewellery department was called metal art. The emphasis was on form and materials, not so much about concept and discussions about your work. It was a lot about techniques and fine tuning details, which I am grateful for, it has allowed me to work freely.

Karin started working at HDK in 2007 and after nine and a half years she is the professor that has stayed the longest in the jewellery department. It has been years of great social changes, not to mention how social media has rapidly impacted on the flow of information. How has this effected the education and students?
I think that’s something that has affected everyone who is an active part of society and you need to find a way to relate to that. I think it is important to find a balance. I have seen that there is also an urge among the students to go back to more analogue techniques. It is easy to be seduced by the new techniques such as 3D printers and laser cutters, but you have to figure out the right way to make use of them. I think it is a matter of finding the tools that serves your ideas the most, no matter if it is manual or digital.

Has the role as professor affected your artistic work in any way?
No, I don’t think so. It is an inspiring environment but more on a personal level that artistic. I enjoy being surrounded by all students, colleagues and creative ideas and to be a part of the discussions and progress of a school environment.

What would you say is the biggest challenge of being professor at the jewellery department?
The biggest challenge is making sure that the students grow and develop, that they start to find their own individual voices as artists, something they will constantly continue to develop throughout life. I am always very happy when I see that happen. The Bachelor and Master projects lead to very different final results, in expression, materials and concepts. It can really be a wide range of projects, which I find exciting. Jewellery can be many things, it is possible to work more in the classical sense and to explore its outskirts, the expanding fields of what jewellery can be. Of course that raises questions, is it still jewellery art? It is important to keep those questions alive so the students are aware of how they relate to the jewellery field with their work. I believe that as long as these questions are considered, jewellery can be many things. If I notice that a student is pulling in another direction, I would never hinder them from exploring that. I often suggest to students to look at other art fields as well, I think that can be very inspiring and it can connect to your own work.

I find inspiration for my own work from other art fields but mostly it comes just from being a part of the society and everything that is happening around me. For me the passion comes from working in my studio and being hands on with the material. That’s where new ideas are born, during the process, making discoveries and taking steps in new directions. And for me, it always ends up being jewellery in the end all the same.  

Karin Johansson, necklace: Alva, 2015. Anodized aluminium, gold, acrylic
Photo by: elStudio