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Johanne PI . Interview

1. apr. 2024

a talk

Hi Johanne.
How would you introduce yourself to a complete stranger? What about you makes you smile, and what do people need to know about you?

I’m quite well-versed in introducing myself to strangers: being an artist and having done a lot of therapy will do that to you. So most of my conversations usually grow from sentiments about art and self-expression, or my views and experiences as a sober alcoholic at age 23.

I would like people to know about me, that I navigate a bit naively and bluntly in this world. It’s something I really enjoy about myself.

Describe, in your own words, your style. 

What about working with this expression excites you?

My artistic process is built upon repetitiveness in movement, easy access and simple materials; these things let me work when, and how it suits me best on the given day. That freedom in accessibility, and knowing that I can stop or shift focus at any given time, creates a feeling of safety that makes it easier for me to delve into more personal and intense moments of drivenness.

My style feels, to me, very organic and decisive, with almost a need to always relate everything back to something bodily. I think it’s because the body is one of the only things in this world that I feel a need to depict differently than what is. I feel that I can make them more whole and complete than reality can.

Many of your works feature organic and intricate figures. Is it a reflection of your body? Do each of them have a story or a snapshot?

No, on the contrary; they have nothing to do with my own body. I find my own body quite uninspiring. I interpret and depict bodies that are without its natural limitations, and I think I’m too aware of my own body’s limitations to play around with it. It is also quite daring to think to one day make a depiction of my own body, whole and in its completeness, when that is something I know I’ll never be able to have in my life.

None of my pieces have a clear narrative, they’re all composed of different inmate objects or groups of bodies that create a new form, often having a resemblance to the themes that I am outsourcing or connecting to at that time. The form works are made from a pretty slow process, starting with picking out and taking apart the books for the canvas and then making tiny, endless doodles until an image begins to take form and you can start to find the softness, the light and the structure of the book pages and pen-ink.

How long have you been active as an artist or whatever else you define yourself as?

I started painting during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, and I began to draw around two years later. I was maybe a month or so into painting, when I started to spend every single day on developing myself as an artist. My whole world has revolved around it ever since.

I’m pretty self-taught, but have been taking a course in basic visual arts to gain some knowledge on building an artistic practice, and to get a better understanding of different ways to convey intentions through your works.

Do you feel that the course has helped you to get where you are now, or has your own artistic/personal exploration been just as significant a factor in your current creativity?

I think it helped me a lot in clarifying that I wanted to pursue art professionally, and the different ways and means to do it.

The drive to create, and the joy and need I have for art and creation to be the base of my everyday life runs deeper than any formal education, but  professional feedback and any kind of help in how to present and develop ideas effectively has been very important and relevant to me. It’s a complex collaboration of wants, needs and coincidences.

When you were younger, could you ever have imagined your life as an artist as it is today, and how do you think your younger self would feel about your life so far?

My younger self would be very surprised. Everyone around me, who knew me before, is still kind of surprised. We thought I was going to be a professor in neuropsychology, or some other kind of academic with some kind of a side hustle consisting of music. And then for a few years, we thought I was just going to be a lost cause.

I was never that interested in visual arts when I was younger - I was very concerned with being smart and pretty. But I loved music and took singing classes, and it was my vocal coach, Ida Spinner, who introduced me to a world of uncompromising lyricists and musicians; through them I began to discover all these people who so desperately needed to express themselves and show their hearts to the world.

Where do you think you would have been without such early inspiration from Ida, your music teacher? Despite it being a different medium, has it been the catalyst for challenging and unfolding your creativity?

I don’t think I would have been particularly interesting, or even a very nuanced person without Ida. She gave me ways of understanding the world that I didn’t have before.

I grew up in a very small bubble of immense privilege in the North Zealand part of Denmark, and for the first 18 or so years of my life, I was only living in this very secluded little world, desperation, embrace or diversity isn’t really what takes center stage in a bubble of privilege. So her popping that bubble, and sparking an intense interest in all these other worlds full of grit and heart, I think that saved me from becoming quite simple and narrow-minded.

With that in mind, what do you find the most challenging/easiest in maintaining your creative processes over time?

The most challenging part for me is having a sense of overview. I’m not great at the whole career and planning part. Sometimes it can be hard to protect the integrity as well.

The easiest is maintaining my interest.

Do you have any rituals when it comes to starting your art, and have they changed over time?

Not really. I make sure to sleep and eat as well as I can, so my body and brain have what they need to keep me upright and happy most of the day. And then I give myself unconditional freedom to up and leave anything I’m doing, at any given time, if there’s something I’m more interested in doing. So I move between writing, painting, drawing etc. throughout the day. My only rule is that I have to be interested in what I’m doing. If not, then I have to go do something else.

What do you see as the most difficult and the most enjoyable aspects of working in the narrow culture of art?

The cultural elite is something that’s a bit intangible and strange to break into, I would believe. I’m still quite early in both my life and career, but even here, at the beginning of it all, where nothing really determines anything,  there’s so many unspoken rules and hierarchies pushed upon you. There’s too many people with agendas.

But I haven’t encountered nearly as many closed doors as my peers who are excluded for portraying their ethnicity or queerness in their works.

The great thing about art-driven spaces is that you can’t really map out who’s going to make it, or be relevant in a hundred years. One can be so skilled and rich, but a bit intentionless, and then someone with minimal taught experience can just come in and create something incredibly poetic. I feel very honored by many of those I get to meet.

What has been the biggest mistake you've made on your journey in the art world?

Perhaps, when I thought you should just map out the direction you had to go in, and mindlessly follow that plan. I ended up on a very commercial path, with the only focus being sales and ‘breaking through’, instead of focusing on my work, integrity and interests. It made me quite unhappy and a half-heartedly participant in projects I had agreed to, which wasn’t fair to me or anyone.

Now I focus instead on creating a body of work, that I would be proud to show to a person who intimidates me.

Is art the only thing that fills your entire work life, or do you also earn income elsewhere?

I don’t have a real job, never did. My entire day and world is connected by art. It is what determines my routine and needs.

Anything else I spend my time on, like people or going to the theater are very active choices of company or experiences that feel essential to me in some way. I don’t often do anything, that I feel like I could easily live without.

Over the next few years, where do you think you'll be in this art world? - How do you plan on getting there?

I am working on seeking professional guidance in writing, to develop and incorporate language and narration into my works. Overall, I think I’m spending the next few years on achieving a certain level of professionalism in my art, being receptive and seeking out conversations with interesting people.

Where are these people?

Everywhere. And sometimes they seem incredibly hard to find. It also depends a lot on my own mood, if I’m tired and moody, there are no interesting people in this world. If I’ve slept well, they’re everywhere.

I’ve made it a habit to end conversations, if I don’t want to take part in them, so, sometimes by process of elimination, I almost always end up speaking with someone who really captivates me.

Who was the last person you met who made such a great impression?

Yesterday I met a man without a name at a bookstore, who overheard me speaking with the owner about a copy of Naked Lunch by Burroughs I had come to pick up. He then tells me that he’d been spending the day there, in hopes that I wouldn’t come pick it up, so he could get it. We spoke a bit, about authors and Russian warfare, and he ended up curating me a list of books he thought I’d enjoy, also giving me his blessing to take home Naked Lunch and buying a copy of my favorite book, while I bought a copy of his.

These kinds of meetings are what makes life dynamic; these brief, personal and nameless moments.

The ones that crawls deep under my skin and into my heart don’t happen as often, and couldn’t be defined into a single story; they’re made from how we address, navigate and embrace each other in a shared space. They’re, to me, some very close lifelong friends, a couple of children, some family and a few individuals with whom I’ve shared sporadic hours and beautiful conversations.


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