“For a long time I was collecting various objects without any idea of what to use them for,” Michael Johansson says. As a student, the Swedish artist produced primarily photo and video projects, but the impending step of leaving the creative comforts of school for the great unknown as a graduate struck a chord: As he edged closer to finishing up his master’s degree in 2005, Johansson decided to switch mediums completely. “I regretted not having taken more chances during my studies,” he says. “In some ways I saw my final show as the last opportunity to take a leap before the harsh reality awaited. I decided to see where working with the objects I had collected would take me.”
The bold move resulted in the first series of sculptures that would soon become his signature—puzzle-like, color-coordinated forms composed of everything from oversized luggage to itty bitty bric-a-brac, all fit together as if they were designed to be united. “It presented me with a challenging framework, giving me both possibilities and limitations from which I could create a context of my own,” he says.
His style is often referred to as “real-life Tetris,” and Johansson is not only okay with the comparison—he actually proffered it. “I sometimes use it as a way to describe what I do to people who have not yet seen what I do,” he says. “I like that it creates a humorous undertone that I hope will spark an interest for people to spend a longer time exploring my work, finding other levels of interest as well.”
Though he doesn’t make sketches or plan far in advance, Johansson has amassed a pretty impressive assortment of component parts kept at the ready. “I do have an extensive number of items waiting for the right moment to shine,” he says. These are labeled according to hue, then shelved in boxes at his studio in Malmö or at a dedicated storage space nearby. Each new endeavor, then, is an opportunity both to use up his “stock” and go out in search of new parts. “Even though I try to use the things I already have as much as possible, it seems like for each project I finalize I end up with more things than I had before I got started.” His home, however, has experienced the opposite effect. “It’s gotten emptier and emptier. Things from my ‘private’ collection have found their way into my work as well. I still enjoy buying an occasional item for personal use, but I guess finding things for my work more than enough fills my need to collect at the moment.”
He’s often asked about what exists in between the perfectly ordered borders of his structures. “I think people know the answer—but they still like to believe in the illusion of the works being solid all the way to the core.” Ultimately, Johansson’s style nestles nicely within the larger context of the Internet’s unceasing appreciation of things organized neatly. There’s just something incredibly satisfying about seeing stuff—however incongruous—find its niche in this mixed-up world of ours.