By PHILO COHEN Photography RYAN GATTAORA
Who are you?
My name is Johanna – pronounced Joe rather than Yohanna.
There is a brown dot on my right cheek, I wear light colours and have long dark hair – this is usually how I describe myself in a text message when I am to collect a new visitor at the train station.
I speak English with a sort of German/Indian accent, despite being French. Most people I have met for the past years tend to think I am in fact Indian! Actually, I am French and of French, Algerian, Caribbean, Alsatian ancestry. I like and repetitively use the colour pink, my work is therefore described as ‘feminine’ by many, I tend to be sceptic about that, I believe it is rather universal.
Your practice is quite interdisciplinary. You move between media such as collage, painting, sculpture, installation. Where did it all start?
I guess with plants, dance and textiles. As a child, I was immersed in my paternal grandparents’ environment which included permaculture farming, and some five hundred indoor potted plants.
It is an intuitive experience, and natural at the moment for it to be a diverse and fluid practice, as it reflects my plural identity.
There is no such process per se as decision-making in which I am wandering if paper, or textile would be best. I am continuously making, moving, both collecting and producing materials also, and the materials are at time present prior to a project. A project might therefor arise directly from a material. It is with much awareness however that I do select the materials with which I work, seeking for these to be cruelty free and ethical. Decisions also do happen in the process of creating paintings, sculptures such as which colour to use, yet this happens later, once pieces are already in progress. Over the years, I have established processes such as daily drawings and colours studies that diligently guide my overall activities. It is an approach perhaps similar to that of gardening. There is intuition, pleasure, experience, the wish to share, invite and one’s taste and narrative.
You also work with textile and in publication. How do you bridge the work you do as a visual artist with this other part of your artistic practice?
I see these projects such a Poetic Pastel Press, Journal du Thé, Penser Manger Partager etc as extensions of my personal practice. These projects are also much based on exchanges, research and togetherness. I am a painter who works with editing and publishing, rather than an editor who also paints, it is in this nuance that the differences may unfold. It is with the same sensibility and perhaps urge that I have for making with my hands and heart, that I approach other projects. The printed pages are a medium of expression just as a textile, a pigment etc.
You were born in France and now live in London. How are the two places different? How do they feed one another in your mind?
I have lived in Alsace France until my twentieth birthday, after which I moved to Zurich in Switzerland and Berlin in Germany. I relocated to England with my husband artist Jatinder Singh Durhailay in 2015. It took its time, yet I feel much at home presently in England, and English while being a third language is one I also feel at ease with, surprisingly despite a certain clumsiness, I enjoy the exercise that is writing in English and learning new vocabulary continuously.
Alsace where I was raised and the urban borough of London in which I presently reside are extremely different, I will let you imagine that.
My experience of rural life nurtures the way I live in England, for example, at first I used to say hello to all people I crossed on the footpath of our street, that was quite hilarious. Thankfully we have a small garden and a patch of grass, we are close to our neighbours so there is a sense of community, I also ride the bicycle and make jam from the fruits of the cherry tree, activities carried on from Alsace. While some of my friends say I am chirpy and jolly, I think I also live a lot in my mind, finding myself in reveries quite frequently.
Where do you feel the most creative/inspired?
When I feel safe.
Who is your work for?
This is a question I have addressed to myself again and again frequently. I used to think that my practice and projects were for all. Yet, that was perhaps a little naïve, as while I intend it to be ‘for all’, I came to the gradual understanding that of course it is not perceived by the diverse audiences in the same manner, which was not necessary my intent, but also that a certain sensibility and altruism might at times be required to find my works and projects to be relevant or simply of interest, hereby I do not necessarily mean to like the work, simply to ‘hear’ it. I hope for my practice to open certain gates, put in light concerns, brings us together, arise positive feelings, however I came to accept that there is some by which the pieces simply can’t be heard for now, to be heard the ones at the other end must have the will to listen, my projects are frequently gentle whispers. An other element I hope to tackle with my practice is the elitism of art, as after all art and other concerns as such remain for certain elites. Therefor I do best to engage in projects outside of the usual art spheres, especially with Poetic Pastel.
A recent body of work titled Safe Space focuses on women of various ages and backgrounds, the series is composed of oil paintings accompanied by a series of corresponding short audio monologues, memories and experiences narrated by friends and family. The pieces touch on stories of love, loss, life, decision-making such as having a child and our shared stumbling-blocks.
Your husband is also an artist. Do you work together? How do you draw the line between personal and professional, if at all?
Yes, we are such support for one another! I am a huge fan of Jatinder’s work and dedication to his practices both painterly and musically. We collaborate on projects such as the ones of Poetic Pastel, he also created illustrations for Journal du Thé, and I contribute to Jatinder’s and Suren Seneviratne project Petit Oiseau among others.
There is only life for Jatinder and myself. I am only learning to draw a possible line between personal and professional in my life in general. Being a fully committed person, it was a little hard to realise that to ‘protect’ myself and the people close to me I might have to, at times, draw a line.
Your work has been on display all around the world. How did you get to create such network for yourself? Who did you reach out to? How to brand oneself when one makes art?
Being able to mostly communicate for and by myself from the start was, and is an important tool. To learn languages is something I encourage others and myself to do when possible. I have and still try to reach out to individuals, communities, projects that I admire for various reasons, both in an outside of the arts and culture world. Of course, there might be no return at times, disappointments at others, I try best to focus and give most of my future attention and energy to the good and people who respect me.
Please know that what you might perceive as ‘success’ comes by waves with much doubts on my side; on the relevance of art in the life of others, and if I am really helping or even reaching out enough. I have moments during which I do contemplate stop communicating on my art and ‘working’ as an artist, I am certain I will always create, but at times the art systems and who it serves or entertains is what I doubt.
How has your identity as a woman affected your path if at all?
I am not sure how to answer this and if it is for me to say? I have only ever been a coloured girl and woman. If you mean ‘affected’ in a certain ‘negative’ way, I can only say that not being white and talking about ecology from the beginning of my practice is not what it seems is ‘expected’ of me, I like to challenge that and It is much addressed in my first novel which is to be published later this year.
What is next?
A solo exhibition titled Tamil Nadu opening on August 31st at Totodo in Tokyo, and a group exhibition we have organised with Poetic Pastel at Nidi Gallery, it is titled Tea Today, Jatinder’s and Cécile Daladier’s pieces will be presented too.
Do insects Plays ? A book by Paris based Chose Commune, with who I absolutely loved working, it includes paper works in relation to a recent stay in South India. The books will be presented with events in Tokyo, London and Paris.
Follow Johanna’s work here.