Otherworldly with Laurel Johannesson

Calgary-based artist Laurel Johannesson explores real and surreal worlds in her art. Using technology and photography, she creates otherworldly scenes that evoke a sense of mystery and melancholy. From Switzerland to Italy and Greece — her workshave been exhibited all over the world. We talk with Laurel about her art and creation process.

The theme ‘temporality’ is at the center of your works Situations and The Oblivion Seekers.What does temporality mean to you?

“Our bodies are the source of how we perceive an environment. Since we are unable to be in two places simultaneously, this corporeal dependency contributes to our understanding of place being spatially and temporally singular. As the day progresses, our bodies align with the movement of the earth. If we do not experience the light of morning and the shadow of night, our experience of time is lost. It is this in-between or liminal space of lost time that I am interested in exploring. Sun on the waves, and stars in the sky. Where we can experience being in two places at the same time.Or perhaps it’s two different times in the same place. I’m interested in creating a sense of the uncanny. Places and times that look familiar but are strangely foreign.”

Water (and nature in general) is a recurring element in your works. What does it represent?

“I can’t entirely explain my natural connection to water. It’s innate. I definitely believe in the blue mind theory. Swimming and diving have long been a part of my life, and I feel most comfortable either near, on, or in water. I started making work about the temporality of the beach after many years of underwater photography. I was totally focused on the perception of suspended time when you are underwater. However, over the years, I began to notice people at the seaside and how they stare at the water, seemingly mesmerized. There is often something in their posture and expression that conveys longing — or that I interpret as longing —for something unreachable or unknowable.”

How do you approach each new series?

“I prefer to work organically, so I only plan minimally beforehand. I photograph the locations and figures in response to the place and then I work out the narrative over time later in the studio.Once I’m back in the studio, I look through my photographic archive, sometimes searching for a specific location. Then I’m taken back to the place where I photographed the original images— images that I will ultimately deconstruct and reconstruct into real and imagined scenarios. It’s like a strange form of time travel and suddenly I think that I can almost feel the negative ions from the sea, and then the process starts to flow — and the real work begins.”

And working with photographic imagery in combination with digital art, what does your creation process look like?

“I digitally collage bits and pieces together, and the final images end up directly printed on metal, sometimes on paper, and as bespoke light boxes. Lately, I’ve been animating some of the images with particular aspects remaining static and frozen in time while other parts move subtly in the wind or are rained down upon in a torrential downpour.Hair dances in the breeze, plants grow, and the night sky comes alive.”

If you can tell an artist’s emotions and thoughts through their work, how would you say your works represent you?

“There has always been an element of melancholia in my work, which I think is representative of an underlying element of my personality.”

In general, what has shaped you the most in becoming an artist?

“I’ve always had an interest in technology, and early on, that technology came in the form of SLR cameras and photo-based print techniques. I’d spend a lot of time setting up scenarios, using myself as a subject, just experimenting with the camera. I have a background in painting and drawing and the majority of my undergraduate studies were in these areas, along with my main focus, printmaking. Then, at the beginning of my master’s degree, I started working with computer technology and I was quite nervous about it. It just wasn’t very accepted amongst printmakers at that time, and I had been labeled a printmaker. Then I went to the Royal College of Art, and I received such great support and encouragement there, andI felt free to pursue this tool that was so attractive to me. Ultimately, the various modes of production that I’ve investigated over the years — from painting, drawing, printmaking, photography, and computer technology — all work together to realize my still images, moving images, and interactive moving images. For many years, I’ve also been researching philosophies of temporality and their relationship to art and technology. These ideas show up in the work in both a technical sense and also in the concept. Looking into these theories led to my thinking about the beach as a liminal site.

Lastly, what elements in life have influenced you in your work?

Cinema has also affected how I construct an image, in the sense of developing a series of images that work together as a non-linear narrative. I also want the scene to feel familiar but at the same time foreign. I play with light and space to elicit a sense of the uncanny. Something that I believe that I was attracted to as a child while watching films. I can recall suddenly becoming aware that the otherworldly night scene on the screen was actually shot in daylight using the day for night technique. Although I don’t use this exact technique, I do employ the aesthetic experience of it. And I’m sure beach scenes in films like Fellini’sJuliet of the Spirits or La Dolce Vita, or the final end of the world scene in Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, have influenced me in some way. When Fellini’s characters find themselves at the beach, they appear to attain a form of self-realization that is instinctive and corporeal as the connection between the characters and the sea appears to act as a catalyst. The beach is neither land nor sea. It is constant and yet constantly changing. It is often a place of naked truth, of judgment, a site of initiation into consciousness. In von Trier’s film, the three characters are all waiting for the end of the world. One is crying, one is perhaps in shock or accepting, another almost seems indifferent. I love that kind of tension. It’s something I strive for in my work.”

This interview was featured in book N°Fantastic.

No items found.

if you liked this editorial, we recommend continue reading below: