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The Tower cover

Michael Johansson for Wooyoungmi

Everyday objects re-imagined by Swedish artist for the Wooyoungmi AW13 campaign

Precise, detailed, architectural; the menswear designs by Korean sisters Woo Young Mi and Woo Jang Hee have provoked a cultish following since their label’s conception in 2002. Aiming to evoke the extraordinary from the ordinary, under their label Wooyoungmi, they present fashion as an escape from the mundane, executed with a tender delicacy and masculine appeal. For campaigns, the label collaborate with an artist to help realise their vision of an idealised relationship between body and form; in the past, they have partnered with Lee Song SS12, Clemens Krauss AW12 and Osang Gwon SS13. This season, they hand over to Michael Johansson, a Swedish artist who plays with concepts of object and space by condensing familiar objects of a succinct colour scheme into a compact space. For this project, he has created Tower and Cube using colours of the collection. Here Michael talks us through his new works. 

Dazed Digital: What attracted you to work in collaboration with Wooyoungmi?

Michael Johansson: I'm always interested in finding new challenges for how to push my practice forward, and since I could see a clear connection between my sculptures and how Wooyoungmi combines different shades and structures in their fall collection, I wanted to see how my work could be developed within this context.

DD: What inspires your work?

Michael Johansson: I'm inspired by everyday scenarios, things you pass by and normally don't pay attention to, but that for some reason stands out this particular time. It can be a parking lot filled with cars in the same colour, or that the pants you are wearing have the exact same shade as the chair you just sat down in. Or basically anything you encounter in your daily life but never really paid attention to before. So in a way my source of inspiration is something very ordinary disguised in an extraordinary way.

DD: Your work places familiar objects in an unfamiliar setting. Tell me about some of the more unusual objects you used in this campaign – where are they from? How did you source them?

Michael Johansson: Some of the objects I've carried with me for years, but most of them are collected from flea markets and second hand stores in the area around Malmö and Berlin, where I currently live and work. One of the things that intrigues me with the items I source is that I actually don't know their origin. Most of the times I know what they are, and what they have been used for, but not by whom, when and where. That is one of the main reasons for why I choose to work with used objects instead of new products you can buy in a supermarket. That they all in a way have lived a life before I find them. And since every work contains of hundred of different objects, and I have found all objects in different places, all these lives are morphed together into a fake identity that never existed.

DD: Why does this way of expressing yourself appeal to you?

Michael Johansson: Lately I've realised that it is much easier for me to relate to limitations rather than possibilities when making a work. That what others might find an obstacle has become a necessary tool in my practice. I guess basically since the limitations force me to react, to make a decision for how to move forward, something an endless stream of possibilities doesn't provide. And since all the objects I use comes with a defined colour and shape, and in addition also carry a strong narrative, I almost feel that the work makes itself once I got started. And that when all the riddles are solved and everything fits neatly together, it's almost like the work was predestined to be put together in that particular way. And who knows, perhaps it was?

DD: How did you arrive at this kind of work? What mediums did you try in the past?

Michael Johansson: A very long time ago I tried to push myself into becoming a painter, since back then for me that was the logic way to proceed for how to become an artist. But in the end all my canvases turned out grey, perhaps since I was to impatient to clean my brushes when changing colour. Later as an art student I tried more or less every medium that came my way, so to a certain extent I think I've pretty much covered them all. But my way to work sculpturally with objects I think came through exploring photography, since that led me to rediscover ordinary items in a way not too different from the way I do today.

DD: Wooyoungmi’s ethos is to present fashion as an escape from the mundane – while your work makes art out of ordinary objects. Do you think it is important to see beauty around us?

Michael Johansson: Perhaps not so much to see beauty as to rediscover things you have neglected after seeing them too often. Things you pass by in your daily life, and just don't notice any more. I think of this as an way to break your daily patterns, to reinvent yourself without necessarily visiting new places. I know I constantly need to be reminded about this myself and appreciate other artists work that intrigues me to look at things with a new set of eyes. I hope my art can offer this to others as well.

DD: How do you see the relationship between art and fashion?

Michael Johansson: I think both art and fashion comes with a wide range of possible meanings. They could both be very close connected to our daily life, and also stand for something unreachable. But I think both good art and good fashion is a combination between something we all recognise very well, and something we find new and surprising. Fashion has the advantage that it's more naturally incorporated into daily life due to its practical implications what art is, but I see art as equally important for how to live life to the fullest.

DD: You are Swedish, Wooyoungmi is a Korean design duo. Do you see your national identity as formative to the way you work? Or do you consider your vision as international?

Michael Johansson: I am sure my way to work is looked upon as typically Swedish from the outside, after all IKEA is a hard heritage to ignore. And of course the surrounding where I've spent most of my life have affected my identity, but this is nothing I put any thought into myself. The past years I've spent more time traveling than I've been at home, and at the moment I'm dividing my practice between Malmö and Berlin. Perhaps this change of scenery will eventually alter my work as well. 

DD: Your work is all about making the most of compact space – how do you pack your suitcase to travel? Have you any packing tips?

Michael Johansson: I tend to pack my suitcase as light as possible. Perhaps since I am normally surrounded by a large collection of objects in my daily practice, I prefer not to carry much with me when on the road. And that is actually also a very good packing tip. Makes the packing process a whole lot easier.