Interview with Johan Rosenmunthe

Johan Rosenmunthe (b. 1982) has been selected as one of the artists to be included in the Foam Magazine Talent Issue of 2015. Foam curator Kim Knoppers had a Skype-conversation with the multi-talented Danish artist.

Subtle Stress © Johan Rosenmunthe, Courtesy of the artist

Browsing through Tectonic, the seductive, shiny blue book by Johan Rosenmunthe, is a confusing experience, akin to wandering through a contemporary version of an art/science/natural history museum in which objects and images of contrasting kinds are all displayed together. The title refers to the entirety of processes, movements and distortions that take place within the earth’s crust. The natural forces involved in tectonics transform the countless minerals found on earth, turning them from one kind of material into another, which is much like what occurred in early photography, in the alchemical process witnessed in the first darkrooms.

In Tectonic Rosenmunthe ingeniously brings together his research into minerals and their cultural significance in our society with the physics and alchemy of photography. Rosenmunthe and I talked about his book, his working methods and his activities besides those of being an artist. But of course I couldn’t resist the temptation to ask about his fascination for stones.

Entering the Office © Johan Rosenmunthe, Courtesy of the artist

Johan Rosenmunthe: ‘Ever since childhood I’ve had a fascination for stones and objects that I feel are sacred. As a boy I was always collecting things, dismantling machines, finding the most essential part and walking around with it in my pocket. I almost worshipped that perfect object, the one that contained the spirit of whatever I’d taken apart. As a small child I collected stones and polished them with special tools. That interest has remained with me.

In my work I’m interested in the point at which two tracks cross. One track is materials, their transformation and our understanding of them over time, the changing histories and energies they can have as a result of human involvement. The second track is my interest in the physics of photography. My fascination for photography arose from an interest in the camera as a technical tool and in the whole technical set-up that surrounds photography. What happens in the darkroom? What kind of technical processes are going on in there? Those are the questions that drew me in.’ 

Ultraviolet © Johan Rosenmunthe, Courtesy of the artist

KK: Your work touches upon pseudoscience. What is your research process?

JR: Usually I’m researching subjects that are kind of scientific without being hardcore science. My next exhibition is about the island of Java, where they recently found an old mussel shell with some markings on it. It was the starting point for research into the whole island. I just pick up small things that interest me and make my own associations. I see it as making new objects that have the same fascination as objects from 500,000 years ago. I’m trying to built a story around that.

There are other artists interested in science who have a totally different approach. They investigate thoroughly and then communicate what they think is important. That’s more political. For me it’s different. I’m inspired by the way science works and I then make my own stuff that has the same energy.

Social Context © Johan Rosenmunthe, courtesy of the artist
I feel titles like Subtle Stress or A New Childhood Memory are important for the narrative of the book. It almost seems you start with a title? Or am I mistaken? Do you invent the titles afterwards?

I’ve never started with the title but I think I could have. It was a long process for me to find the correct titles because I don’t want them to be too explicit. I always want to have some mystery involved and that’s what I like in other people’s work as well, that you feel there’s a reason why some things have been chosen but you don’t get the whole story. My interest in art came partly from wanting to send mixed messages, wanting to communicate things that are not easily decipherable or understandable.

Finding a title was a process of trying to get back to the basic idea I had when I made the image. I didn’t plan every image. When I made Subtle Stress it wasn’t planned, it was based on the feeling of making something that just about holds up. There’s a stress situation, but it has a calmness to it as well.

A New Childhood Memory © Johan Rosenmunthe, Courtesy of the artist

You’re a busy man. You’re an artist but you’re also running the exhibition space New Shelter Plan in Copenhagen. You’re a co-founder of the curatorial collective and publishing house Lodret Vandret as well. Is there a unifying theme that runs through all your activities?

Actually, it’s all about collaboration and the spirit of getting things done together. Along with others I wanted to create a space where we could offer a broad perspective on what’s going on in the broad field of fine art. We work with an advisory board of sixteen people who decide what will be on view here. It works surprisingly well in practice. Of course there are differences of opinion, but everyone understands that ultimately we have to take a democratic decision. There’s huge variety in the things we exhibit. But our collaboration is essential.

Lodret Vandret is a collaborative platform for independent publishing and exhibition making based in Copenhagen. Collaboration is also at the very core of Lodret Vandret’s practice both when working with individual artists and on group projects. We are for example hosting a small, new and informal initiative: a book-designers’ salon here in Copenhagen. We just meet, have some food and really discuss in depth some specific kind of art-related book. The first time we looked at exhibition catalogues. We’re really interested in community-based processes. We’re not so much interested in sending something out into the world as in discussing things with other people.

Radiant Mirror © Johan Rosenmunthe, Courtesy of the artist

About Johan Rosenmunthe

Johan Rosenmunthe, born 1982, is working primarily in Copenhagen. Educated from Fatamorgana the Danish School of Art Photography and has a BA in Human Science from Roskilde University. He is co-founder of curatorial collective and publishing house 'Lodret Vandret', exhibition space 'New Shelter Plan' and art book festival 'One Thousand Books'.

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