Jan Rune Johannessen. The man. The artist. The philosopher.
A native of Sandefjord (Norway), Johannessen is a creative. And like most creatives, he is also a thinker and a dreamer. He lives in a world where art and philosophy collide, an environment of cultural curiosity and creative expression.
Tending to shy away from the typical constraints of time and expectations, Jan Rune lives instead in a reality where things will take as long as they must and as long as he feels they should.
As we talk about background, I learn Jan Rune has delved into a myriad of studies, including project management, creative processes, graphic design, coaching, and leadership. During his post-secondary schooling, a curiosity for Buddhism and other Eastern philosophies led him on a journey of exploration. He began to read, to question, to wonder. And as he did so, he discovered in himself a deep interest in philosophy.
One particular author and book really set the wheels in motion for Johannessen. Quite randomly, he happened upon Smerte (Pain), written by Arne Johan Vetlesen, philosophy professor from the University of Oslo. As Jan Rune digested the pages, he was both encouraged and challenged. He felt he was more in touch with himself, on a new and deeper level. He saw things in Vetlesen’s writing that confirmed his own experiences and views about the world in which he lives. And the more he read, the more curious and hungry he became to further explore these themes.
Challenging the Status Quo
Jan Rune has taken time to specifically explore Vetlesen’s (and others’) writing on what it means to really be human in western culture and the western world. He has always been interested in interpersonal things and concerned with finding meaning. So it was important for him to search for and find ways to apply clarity and truth on a personal level.
He also began to dig into and examine the culture around him. He wondered how an uncritical and populist mindset could affect democracy. And while these topics might be a challenge to the status quo, Jan Rune finds it freeing to release from mainstream attitudes and mindsets. It’s liberating to let go of oneself and see things for what they are, creating a greater freedom of movement and self-exploration. These are concepts that he feels have great value, and this is the basis for the art installation he is currently presenting.
The Evolution of [Jan Rune’s] Art
For about 10 years, Jan Rune worked with digital, mainstream photography. But then his interest in philosophical studies and his journey of self-discovery began spilling over into his artwork. He didn’t totally let go of what he had done and learned in his earlier work, but rather allowed it to develop in a more abstract and organic manner.
As he discovered those things he felt to be truth, he wanted to express them through his art. He felt enlightened and was beginning to come into a new state of understanding, and he desired to show this in a physical manner.
Universality and the Creation of MoodBox
What Jan Rune attempts with his art is a sort of universality (the philosophical notion that universal facts or truths can be discovered). He mixes different objects in a paradoxical manner, attempting to say something about human nature, how the things and systems around us could actually contribute to that which humanizes us.
What is really behind the things we think, say, and do? That is what Jan Rune ultimately wishes to explore with his art. His thoughts and goals through his work are not necessarily things we think about consciously in our day-to-day lives, but an attempt for the viewer to stop and look deeper, both into the art and into themselves.
As he thought about all of this , Jan Rune shifted from digital to analog photography. He began experimenting with mixed mediums, incorporating abstract objects and non-traditional creations into his work.
This shift to analog has allowed him to connect with his work on a more organic and even primal level. It frees him to explore and express in a way that is more about craftsmanship. And in the process, he looks to focus on the humanity of it all.
MoodBox is the name Jan Rune has given to his latest creations: handmade wooden boxes, lit from within, displaying various abstract photographs. This newest set of works combines various elements in a way that provokes thought, while at the same time encouraging one to let go of some level of control.
(article continues below video)
Where East Meets West
It seems today there are clear trends within the western world. Courses on mindfulness. Yoga classes. Vintage or retro styling. New things that are made to look old. Self-help seminars. Articles on how to achieve better health through organics or growing one’s own foods.
Trends can say a lot about what it’s like to live in this day and age. A growing segment of the population is seeking to simplify, to decompress, to go back to a simpler way of life, to connect with themselves or with something deeper, something more universal. Many seem to be looking for a way to reconnect with a simpler time. They attempt this through interior design, clothing, lifestyle changes, organic food choices, minimalism, community gardening, communal living, or similar avenues.
A struggle for identity, a paradox of living in one world while seeking something more. A life with more demands, yet an innate desire for change. As Jan Rune continues to reflect and make observations on our western society and culture, he notes that we are also living in a time where the lines between work and home are blurred: the so-called ‘modern workplace.’
He sees the current adult generation as really the first to live through this ‘modern workplace’ era. It comes with implications for more freedom. And yet, it also poses a challenging situation. With these blurred lines, there are increased expectations from both work and home, pulling individuals in opposing directions.
A Paradox on Many Levels
Paradox is an ongoing theme in our two-hour conversation: the paradox of the modern workplace, the paradox of striving after modern conveniences while simultaneously attempting to simplify or “retro/vintage-fit” our lives, the paradox of wanting less and more all at the same time.
And his work attempts to reflect paradox as well.
After all, if much of our current culture revolves around paradox, and if an artist wants to create opportunity for self-reflection and introspection, shouldn’t that art work in the realm of paradox as well?
As we wrap up our time together, we talk about Jan Rune’s desires for those who see his work. First and foremost, he wants people to see his work and wonder. Far from mainstream or everyday, he hopes it will evoke questions, curiosity, and self-reflection. He desires for those who examine his art to go beyond their own cultural or environmental framework, and to experience something new.
He hopes his art can serve as a seed: a catalyst or starting point for something new within each person. Every individual can interpret the work differently. But in each case, he wants each individual to walk away with a sense of something new within themselves.
An interesting presentation of creativity, a fascinating interpretation of philosophical ideas, and a beautifully imaginative expression of artistic skills: Jan Rune Johannessen and his art will inspire you, while at the same time, challenge and stretch you.
Jan Rune’s current art installation can be seen in Hjertnes Kulturhus through April 28, 2016. And up next for Johannessen is a summer installation at Oslo’s Smelteverket, located inside Mathallen.