*Featured photo: Spring exhibition Charlottenborg, 2022, ph. cr. Ole Akhøj, copyright Marianne Johnstad
Marianne Johnstad, a Danish-born artist born in 1965 in Aalborg, trained as a textile designer at the Royal Danish Academy and currently lives and works in Copenhagen, Denmark.
After gaining important professional experience, first in the field of costume design for theater and later in the field of fashion, she decided to devote her time to her artistic career by creating textile installations and sculptures that refer to a sensual and poetic universe, which arise from a passion for research, experimentation and exploration of pre-existing techniques and materials that the artist transforms by giving them new meaning.
Marianne Johnstad’s works draw inspiration from the inner world, from reflection on the transformative potential inherent in feelings of grief and loss and their ability to change us and lead us back to the most authentic part of ourselves.
What was your training path and when did your interest in textile art begin?
I have been introduced and working with textiles since I was a child. My grandmother taught me to crocheting and embrodery. My great grandmother was a phenomenal seamstress, and one of my aunts taught me to lace. My other grandmother was very good at knitting by hand, and she made dresses for me and my sister.
Received teaching in drawing by artists long before attending the designschool.
I am trained in constructing and sewing clothes, having a background in dance and theatre, sewing and creating costumes. Afterthat I attended the royal academy and graduated in 2004 as an textiledesigner, specialized in knit.
I have worked as an textiledesigner and craftswoman, making samples and showpieces for the high end fashion. And I have been knitting and dyeing accessories and clothes in my studio in my own name for many years.
My interest in/for expressing feelings, emotions and thoughts grew together with working sculptural and making installations. And after my 2nd solo exhibition, 2018 it became clear to me that I wanted to focus my time on working artistic.
What concepts, ideas, feelings, are sources of inspiration for you? What do you try to “make visible” through your work?
Working with textiles is a journey of realization for me, where I strive to create works that make room for reflection and for embracing both beauty and the painful sides of life.
I am literally and philosophically interested in whats visible for us and what lies hiden to us, in our selves, in our relations and in the society we live.
And I strive towards refining the sensuous and tactile language that speaks to, and connects our senses, intellect and spirituality.
Textile and colour is such a direct and sensous way to express emotions and atmospheres, and it is a language we all speak, regardless age and nationalities.
Working with the knit, creating layers, the colours, the sculptural objects, the installations, creating exhibtions is an on-going inspiration, and former objects inspires to new objects.
Related to invisble and visble are our physically actions and our mind, our thoughts, our consioness. What mindset and thoughts are behind our actions. Do they contradict eachother?
How important is improvisation in your work? Is the process of creating a work an instinctive thing for you or is it more the result of a precise project?
It is very important.
My working process is cyclic and intuitive.
I grew up by the North Sea and the lifeforms and cyclic motions of the ocean often influence my works.
I work with a theme, a subject, a challenge I need to explore. Paying attention to emotions, reflections, thoughts, mindsets, simultaneously sketching on paper, in knit, finding colours, writing, researching artist and litterature, finding old knit pieces, yarn, knitting and dyeing. And surrounding me with the knitpieces in my studio.
You create your works mainly by knitting delicate yarns of different qualities and color intensities, sometimes even transparent. What kind of dialogue do you establish with the materials you use?
Its a sensuous and experimenting dialogue with the yarns, the process of dyeing, knitting the pieces and shaping the objects.
I really try to look and I listen, at the knit, at the objects and at the atmosphere within me, using my intuition, my experience and sensibility.
I work simultaneous on several objects.
When knitting on my manual knittingmachine I need to be present in my mind and with my body to make it work. Every yarn feels different, and has its own rythm and sensitivity.
In the dyeing process I start out with a colour palette and then I create grades of colours in the proces. I
Every piece of knit has its own pattern, due to the variations of tension of the stiches and the combination of yarns I created while knitting. The combination of yarns and size of stitches brings shape to the knitted piece.
I also shape by sewing pieces together by hand. Reworking discarded and damaged pieces from other projects. Sometimes I stiffen the knit and in that proces I also shape it. I have also added plaster and colour to obtain the emotions I wanted to express.
I have worked with the transparent yarn for many years, and I still love it
My aim is to contribute to contemporary art and textile with knitted objects and installations, and to broaden the conception of what knit is able to express when used in innovative ways.
Behind your works is an intense study and research into the identity of materials and different techniques of processing and manipulation. This aspect constitutes an inexhaustible source of inspiration for you. Can you tell us more about it?
I have always had an interest in materials. When you make cloth it all starts with the fabric, its abilities, surfaces and expression.
I like working with the simplicity, using and accentuating what the plainknit does by itself – rolling up at the sides and at the top and the bottom.
The expression of a knitted piece is determined by the stitch size and the characteristics of the yarn, which I deliberately use in shaping every piece of knit. When knitting in the transparent yarn I can create different shades of transparency by varying the size of the stiches.
I transform the ability and expression of the knit by adding glue so it stiffens. In that process I can create a form the knit in itself is not capable of. I also create works by changing the surface and expression of the textile through stretching and with coloured plaster. I do that in different grades. From the soft surface of the textile, a crisp and raw materiality appears.
Can you tell us about the textile sculptures exhibited in your Becoming exhibition? How did this project come about and what themes does it explore?
Becoming is a sculptural body of work, expressing a process of consciously entering into grief and loss in an attempt to change its hold and thereby hopefully discovering oneself in a new way. The different sculptural objetcs are expressing the process of becoming an individual with what one was given and not given, including everything that is broken or missing.
The sculptural objects are made of discarded and damaged pieces of knit together with perfectly knitted pieces. They are recreating holes in the knit itself, and as holes of what was not, what never became and never will become. And holes to be perceived as potent ”spaces in between” spaces to hide in, to enter into in order to evolve differently – the process of becoming.
I was a place in my life where I needed to dive into the grief and the sorrow I was carrying with me. I needed to start the process of becoming in a different way. My work with adding glue and plaster to the knit in dark brown colours, expressed my feelings and started the work of the exhibition Becoming. While working the colours and shapes of the objects naturally changed from the darkbrown and stiff objects to skincoloured, transparent, more openshaped objects, a lot with discarded pieces of knit, knit unravelling and where my mending of the knit is visble, just as a scar.
The exhibition was in one room and composed as a kind of landscape where you could wander around and sense the different stades of longing, sorrow, becoming,
What are you working on at the moment?
I have just finshed working on an exhibition, Wandering in greed and gratitude, which opend in april in Dk.
Since 2020 I have been exploring my relation to time and pace, impatience and patience, insecurity and trust, stillness and change and to whats visibile and what is not visibile. Which to me is related to experiening greed and gratitude. I have been paying attention to what greed and gratitiude does to me, and how they affect my being in life.
And I have been working on sculptures created by several pieces of knit sewn together. And added layers inside and on the outside af an object. Some very simple and elegant, others complex.
I have made an exhibition where you can wander around transparent sulptures hanging from the ceiling. And where the shadow of several objects create a new layer. Made with the intention to bring you, the visitor stillness and let you reflect on your relation to greed and gratitude.