Johan Deckmann makes artworks that write humorous real-life truths on the front of book covers. Also a writer and a psychotherapist, he examines the complications of life through the power of language, reflecting on life’s biggest questions, worries and absurdities. His newest exhibition of work – Reading Between The Lines – is curated by Dynamisk at G/ART/EN, a former publishing house, and presents the humor and honesty we all need right now. We spoke to Dynamisk’s Angeliki Kim Jonsson about curating the show, the exhibition space, and the books on her holiday reading list.
What was it like curating an exhibition when it feels like the world is upside down?
It was a challenge, but I was working with a dream team. The artist Johan Deckmann, is based in Copenhagen. The gallerist, Camilla Moresi is based in Como, Italy (where the exhibition is taking place) and I as the guest curator am based in London, United Kingdom. We had hours and hours of zoom and whatsapp calls. Luckily with today’s technology one can be connected and work remotely. As I work closely with Johan I had just visited his studio in Copenhagen in February. I managed to visit the gallery in Como twice before finally coming a couple of days before the opening (which is not to take for granted in Covid times!) It was stressful, intense and very uncertain. We had to be open minded and adapt as the covid restrictions changed, but their was always a lot of laughter, great respect and an incredible team spirit. I was extremely happy on the opening night that we actually pulled it off but I also realized that I will actually miss it. As an independent curator it has never been so important to support the arts and artists. As curators, galleries, collectors, artists residencies, art critics etc., we all have to come together and continue to nurture, celebrate and support artists. They need us now more than ever!
Johan’s work is full of humour, why is it such a perfect antidote for the way we’re feeling right now?
Johan really knows how to tap into things and is always spot on. I usually send him a target emoji on his Instagram posts as I feel that really represents him. He is an artist, author and psychotherapist and you can really see it in his works that his practices are entwined. I also believe that he is incredibly connected and attentive to his surroundings. In today’s society I think many of us forgets to stop, to see, to feel, to question and to wonder.
Johan is a psychotherapist, why do you think it’s important for art to make us really think about things?
Because that is what life is all about and sometimes we forget, art reminds us. We live in a world that is so focused on material and tangible things. What really makes us is principles, kindness and that we are people that stand by our word. I read something when I was a teenager and it will always stay with me: “You are not what you say you are or will do, but you are only your actions.” It has become my life motto as well as my personal motivation for success. I think art has the power to make us think and reflect upon things that we otherwise ignore. Art is a powerful tool and it can be used to change not only single individuals but entire societies and countries. I think Johan’s works aim to entertain yet also bring awareness and stimulate the imagination of the viewer. “The right words can be like good medicine. I want my works to be like mirrors. When you look at them you might not like what you see, but like in a mirror, you now get the awareness and the chance to change something. Like little personal reminders disguised as art”.
The artwork is all written across books. Do you have a book that you recommend we read over the holidays?
Oh I have so many! My New Year’s Resolution is actually to read more. I read a lot online, articles and art magazines, press releases etc., but I never have the time to lay down on the sofa with a blanket and read a book, that feels like a luxury that’s long gone! So for 2021 I am aiming for a book or two a month. Here is my recommended books list: The Shift by Marta Gnyp, Boom by Michael Shnayerson, and Ninth Street Women by Mary Gabriel. I would also absolutely recommend anything by Hans Ulrich Obrist as well as art books. I am currently indulging in Donald Judd, Lucio Fontana and Larry Bell.
Can you tell us a little about the exhibition space?
The exhibition space is fantastic, I fell in love the first time I visited G/ART/EN this summer (the floor is amazing) It’s a great size and architecturally interesting due to the pillar in the gallery. Camilla studied architecture and was working in the field before she returned to Como to open the gallery a year ago. I must say she has done a fantastic job on the refurbishment, I tell everyone it’s a hidden (contemporary art space) gem in the heart of Como, Italy. My first encounter with the space is a strange and funny story actually, because Camilla and I had already had several phone and facetime calls, I follow the gallery on Instagram so I had seen installation pictures online of previous exhibitions. When I arrived it was like seeing an “old friend” again and Camilla felt the same, it was as we already knew each other! G/ART/EN is an independent art gallery but its history is also related back to books. Dating all the way back to the 1920’s the current gallery space was the Omarini di Moresi & Noseda, a small publishing house that then became one of the first bookshops in town. Sharing a common ground of passion for books, text and objects, became the connecting link and the fil rouge from a curatorial perspective for this exhibition and that was what I as curator was focusing on.
You also run Dynamisk, can you tell us about that?
I started Dynamisk in 2017, Dynamisk is an Independent Curating and Art Advisory. Providing curatorial projects and art advisory services, studio visits, art talks, workshops and art tours. New for 2020 is that I started working closely with a small number of artists, (and Johan Deckmann is one of them) I call it “Dynamisk Projects” and cannot wait to share some exciting Dynamisk projects for the years to come!
As I am Swedish I wanted that to be part of my brand. Translated into Swedish, from the English adjective Dynamic: “characterized by constant change, activity or progress. Positive in attitude and full of energy and new ideas: as a force that simulates change or progress. I feel this aligns with the business, but also with myself as a curator and art advisor. One of the greatest compliments I’ve ever had is an artist looking at me after a studio visit and telling me “You really are Dynamisk” That was so great to hear, and so true! I am DYNAMISK and DYNAMISK is me!
The DYNAMISK Instagram (@dynamisk) seeks to bring curating into the visual world of the digital era whilst Give Me A Break: DYNAMISK “In Conversation with..” is an ever growing series of vibrant and unique conversations with pioneering individuals from the Art world.
What are your hopes and plans for 2021?
I think one of the most important lessons that I’ve taken away from 2020 is this, nothing is certain. You have to stay open minded and ‘dynamic’ it doesn’t matter what the world throws at you, if there is a will there is a way. Success comes by being kind, hardworking and focused. I plan on continuing building on all three next year and the years to come and hopefully to continue to curate many more exhibitions! Curating is where my heart lies. A piece of advice I would like to give for 2021 takes its inspiration from a famous quote by Albert Einstein “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” I think this is very true to the future that lays ahead of us, the ones who will adapt, game changers and rule breakers, the visionary will do great. In life it’s about finding you call and go all in.
Reading Between The Lines runs until February 20, 2021