In a project that combines art and the environment, artist Imogen Ohlson reused GA’s unused paper New Year’s cards to make two works of art that will be installed in GA’s Paris offices and in Agua, its Toulouse headquarters. We speak to this committed artist in the ICI Montreuil offices.
Imogen Ohlson is seated at a small desk in a studio whose walls are sprayed with traces of paint. “I’ve been working here for a year, but I’m not always in this room, it’s the studio of graffiti artists and urban art, and some people work here at night,” she explains. The Anglo-Swedish plastic artist speaks softly as she wields a pair of scissors and carefully cuts up GA greeting cards. “My training is in textile design, but I like to create abstract works, using materials and collage,” she continues in her charming accent. Drawing and portraits are her passions, and her work is imbued by the presence of floral motifs, natural elements and animals. “I grew up on the coast in the countryside of Cornwall in England. Creating is a way to escape, a way to immerse myself in my memories by contact with nature.” She recently designed installations made from cut out and pasted paper. “Paper is a sensual material, you can do a lot with it. The way it is cut can produce surprising results. And paper has a personality. It’s something alive that reacts differently to being cut, pasted, or coloured.”
Creating while recycling
Today she is putting the finishing touches on one of two installations designed for GA premises. It is a 1.90-metre frieze #HappyAtWork of tiny butterflies and a fresco representing the GA logo made of thousands of two-coloured petals. Her raw material is unused New Year’s greeting cards. Creating art while recycling is a stimulating creative constraint that is good for the environment, and it fits in with the spirit of the times. “It’s a real wager to create art from objects that already exist. It’s a very interesting idea, says Ohlson. “I can play with the colours, the text and the typography. The idea is to create an optic effect.” Playing on shifting points of view, her installations often take on different colours depending on what angle the viewer looks at them from.
Imogen Ohlson is concentrated on her cutting, a painstaking job. “I’m a patient person, she says. “And cutting has something meditative and rhythmic about it for me.” In the ICI Montreuil building she feels at home and seems to know everyone. “That’s Marie, she’s a jewellery and graphics designer,” she explains. She greets Nico and asks him, “How do you define your work?” He answers with a smile: “Here ? I’m the ecosystem manager, a combination of concierge, activity leader and connector. In real life I’m a designer.” This creative space which opened in 2012 brings together 160 artists, artisans and design start-ups in the premises of the former Dufour electrical equipment factory.
Coexisting in these 1,700 square metres of carefully fitted out and decorated space, are collective workshops, a vast coworking space, and a prototyping laboratory with more than 45 machines available to work a large number of materials, in addition to a restaurant and exhibition hall. On week-ends and during school holidays this collaborative space also offers intensive courses and training in skills such as arts and crafts and computers for professionals and private individuals alike. The idea is to bring together artists and residents on the basis of shared values and enable everyone to acquire tools while fostering creative emulation.
Imogen Ohlson points to collages with saturated colours on the wall opposite her. “This is JBC, a graphics designer from here. He’s working on an exhibition at Malakoff.” On the desk behind her, the team of Water Light Graffiti is testing a light installation prototype. “I really like their installations, which are shown all over the world, in particular in airports. It’s quite magic, she says. “There are people here who have ideas! Everyone pursues their passion, whether it’s woodwork, visual arts, blogging, or anything else. Some of them have switched professions! The atmosphere of this place is very inspiring, it’s bubbling over with creativity. Standards are high, but that motivates me a lot. Each person has his or her personal stamp, and I think that helps one find one’s own.”
In the offices of the two co-founders of Ici Montreuil, near the entrance to the building, one of Ohlson’s installations decorates a whole section of the wall. The work is made out of tiny cut-outs in an immense purple canvas representing a chiselled wave that changes colour depending on where the viewer is standing. This lovely metaphor of movement and the creative moment could well inspire visitors and new residents of Ici-Montreuil.
Imogen Ohlson’s works have been on display since 15 July in the premises of the magazine Causette in Paris, 121 rue de Charonne in the 11th arrondissement.
By Usbek & Rica