Why Helena Johansson Lindell Wants Your Garbage

Helena Johansson Lindell, "Re-handle", exhibition view at Platina, Stockholm
What's the difference between jewellery and sculpture?
The patriarchy, that's what.

Welcome to the cool, stone-walled studio of avant garde Stockholm jewellery designer Helena Johansson Lindell. We fall in love with her capacity to turn plastic toy bits (don't you have a box of plastic toy bits??) into smooth, multilayered wearable art. She's that genius who can look at a Lion King franchise Happy Meal toy and see the perfect oval pendant hiding within its soul. Svea's four-year-old daughter appreciates all aspects of this experience. Colours are discussed. Also, kardemummabulle!
Helena's worktable and materials
Helena on Instragram: https://www.instagram.com/helenajohanssonlindell/ 
Helena online: http://www.helenajohanssonlindell.com/ 
Beautiful Online Thing: SLOW ROADS on Instagram


Listen to the episode

Transcription of Helena Johansson Lindell's interview



SV: Svea Vikander

EB-V: Evla Boyda-Vikander

HJL: Helena Johansson Lindell

Voiceovers in italics


SV: Helena Johansson Lindell is a jeweller I met when she had a show at Velvet Da Vinci, the now-closed fine art and jewellery gallery on Polk Street in San Francisco. When I was in Sweden with my family this summer, I got in touch with Helena.

HJL: Yeah, no. Did you want milk in your coffee?

SV: Yes, yeah.

SV: and she agreed to show me her studio and talk about her practice. I brought my four-year-old daughter with me because she’s an artist, too.

EB-V: Do you know what I? My second-favourite colour is light green.

HJL: Mm, that's also nice colour.

SV: Helena was very kind to come in and meet us in her studio. It was the holidays, and despite the fact that she shares the one large workroom with three or four other people, there was no one else there.

SV: Do you, do you work here alone?

HJL: No, it's not just mine [laughter]

SV: So it's like a communal space? Do you live here? How does this work?!

HJL: Eight people are here now, or nine actually, but then most, most of us have holiday now. So very few are here working.

SV: Except for you

HJL: Well I'm not really here.

SV: Oh, no?

HJL: No. I came here to meet with you!

SV: Oh, ok! [laughter]

SV: It was a sunny day in Stockholm. Her studio is in Södermalm, which is an artsy part of town with small businesses, immigrants, excellent thrift stores with none of the dirt and cat hair you find in American thrift stores, and consignment shops that sell vintage children’s shoes for almost nothing. Paradise, basically.

EB-V: I'm wearing really pretty shoes.

SV: Oh, would you like to show Helena your new shoes?

HJL: Oh please do

SV: Yeah we just got these at the consignment store.

HJL: Ooh. They are nice.

EB-V: They're, they're high-heeled.

SV: They're high heels?!

EB-V: Yeah, they're kind of like they're high heels, because they have kind of have a bump, like high heels

HJL: Yeah they are very nice...

SV: To get to Helena’s studio, you have to call her from the buzzer. She lets you in and you walk through a vestibule to get to a large inner courtyard. Helena’s studio is on the ground floor of the large building across the courtyard and has few windows.

HJL: Please have some kanel, or kardemummabulle.

SV: Oh my goodness, what's that?

HJL: Cardamom...

SV: It's cardamom and it's cinnamon!

HJL: Yeah maybe a little cinnamon but mostly cardamom, I think.

SV: [through mouth full] Oh my god, it's so good!

We first sit down in the (very clean) communal kitchen

SV: I'm gonna have a sip of your juice, hon


SV: Oh wow, how tasty! Did you say 'thank you'?

EB-V: Thank you

and talk fashion and colours.

EB-V: I also have a caftan. Mama has two.

HJL: OK, mmm

SV: And you have one, one the same pattern I do.

HJL: Yeah colours are important, I agree.

EB-V: I like any colour.

SV: Any colour?

EB-V: Mmmhmm. But I hate black.

SV: Why?

EB-V: It interrupts my colours. Like interrupts them and makes them into grey.

HJL: Yeah

SV: Are you talking about mixing? With the painting?

EB-V: Yeah

SV: Yeah, black is so, very bossy.

HJL: Yes!

SV: Cuz you know you just add a little bit and it takes over the whole thing.

HJL: Exactly. Is that something you, do you call it a bossy colour, or is that a saying? Cuz I've never heard that.

SV: It's just me

HJL: Because I never heard that but it's so good. It is a bossy colour! [laughter]

SV: It's true! It is a bossy colour.

EB-V: You know, um, red and white make pink

HJL: Mmm exactly, I think blue is my least favourite favourite colour.

EB-V: And also mine. And also purple.

HJL: Ok yeah, purple has a lot of blue in it.

EB-V: And magenta is pink and red is pink and pink is red.

HJL: Say that again so I can follow you. Magenta is...pink

EB-V: pink

HJL: And then red is pink too?

EB-V: Yeah, and pink is red.

HJL: Yeah exactly.

SV: Did you think you would be discussing colour theory with a four-year-old?

HJL: No but I think this is very interesting, I'm very happy that we're having this conversation.


SV: So what have you been up to?

HJL: I'm thinking I'm at more of a breaking point or, I need to take a bigger step. But let's see in which direction or how big. [laughter] I don't know!

SV: How do you know you're at a breaking point?

HJL: Like I've outgrown the space. I have so many materials and so many things. And then, the pieces grow also. They started growing when I moved here but now I need a space where they can grow even bigger.

SV: OK. Shall we go take a look at some of Helena's work?

EB-V: Yeah

SV: OK, can you show us some..?

HJL: Sure

[sounds of getting up]

SV: Can we leave our bags here?

HJL: Yeh

SV: Oooh ooh! This is the one I always see pictures of, on Instagram

EB-V: I like your things up there!

HJL: Yeah

SV: So, if you haven't picked up on this yet: my kid had never been to an artist interview before (she’s now been to three or four) but at the time she was very, very excited.

[rustling sounds]

HJL: Do you have beads like that?

SV: Do we have beads like that? Not quite the same, but some other beads.

EB-V: Hey! What are these?

SV: Having a great time fondling all the beads, knick-knacks, hooks, handles, pieces of plastic that Helena uses.

HJL: Well I'm not sure, it's not done yet

SV: It's interesting because like, these materials are also her materials, right?

HJL: Yes

SV: Don't you remember being a kid in going into some art space and it just totally imprinting on you?

There’s something nice about sharing a space with so many different people—

So, what, what are these machines here?

they share their tools, so the tools used for woodworking or metalworking

HJL: For, this can cut metal and yeah, wood and plastic

SV: Where is the blade? Oh there, ok yeah

HJL: Yeah here

are relevant to Helena’s work with plastics.

HJL: This was a gift to Elsa, from her boyfriend.

SV: Really? [giggling]

HJL: And uh, I'm the one who's been using it mostly. I'm very grateful, yeah. And then this is the grinding machine for wood and plastic. Some metal too, but mostly this we use for metal, for silver things, for example. I don't use it but yeah, the other three use it.

SV: It's like a polishing? Yeah

HJL: And we have an acid bath, also for metals and then also like a polishing machine, and ultrasound for cleaning...

EB-V: And also there's a small thing that you can play with.

HJL: Oh you mean the guitar?

EB-V: Yeah

HJL: Or banjo, maybe?

SV: But it looks just like a small guitar. It doesn't even look like a banjo.

Her section of the studio…

HJL: Do you have beads like them?

…is a corner crammed full of stuff. Helena has a poster in her studio, that says "sökis"

HJL: Yeah exactly,

SV: It says...hard plastic

HJL: Looking for plastic

SV: Which means, in essence, 'give me all your random plastic crap.'

HJL: ...for ongoing art projects.

SV: Right

HJL: And then it's my email, and a website.

SV: And do you get donations from people?

Plastic isn’t normally magnetic but if you’ve had kids you know that they attract it. Helena can use this plastic to make minimalist, clean-lined, carefully proportioned sculptures.

And believe me, my kiddo LOVES Helena’s artwork.

[polka music]

EB-V: I like your things up there.

HJL: Yeah, which one?

EB-V: all of them. I like these things in here. I like these things in bags and also not in bags. I also like it, I also like it. I like these, I like um those silly pencils. Yeah. I like your stuff. I like those, um uh, those um uh, clear things. I like the pink most. Hey, also there is a heart bracelet! Hearts are the best! I like this, I like this, I like all of these beads on here. I like those.

HJL: Yeah, I thought you might. But the thing is, I think you should have it. That's your favourite colour and it's also your size.

EB-V: I also, I also like it.

[polka music stops abruptly]

SV: Maybe you guys could work on something together.

HJL: Exactly

SV: A little collaboration

HJL: Yes, she would give me ideas, I'm sure. She already has.

[polka music fades in]

SV: Helena’s feeling a shift in her work.

HJL: Maybe bigger, maybe furniture-sized

SV: Yeah?

HJL: But still very relating to the body anyway

SV: Like in relationship to the body, yeah

And if she has a bigger space, she can get more stuff.

HJL: Yeah so fingers crossed I'll find something pretty soon. I have to give three months.

SV: Three months? Is that standard for Sweden?

HJL: Three months is quite a lot, actually. But if I find someone who can move in earlier then, but it would be an empty corner. Because the furniture is mine and like everything is...

SV: Uh huh. yeah you would take it all with you right?

HJL: Mmhmmm

SV: The other places you're looking at, like are they woodworking studios? Do they have large--

HJL: Yeah I'm looking for that as well, so I can work with wood. and I'm even thinking of taking an evening class to do woodworking techniques

SV: Ooh that would be exciting, yeah!

HJL: Yeah, I don't need to decide

SV: Jewellery, sculpture, why differentiate between the two? That's just the patriarchy.

HJL: Thank you. [laughter] That's a good way to end.

SV: "*bleep* the patriarchy. The End." [giggling] I now conclude my studio visit! We should probably get going now, huh?

EB-V: No, no

SV: I know, it's so fun

EB-V: Are we ever gonna see her again?

SV: Are we ever gonna see Helena again? I have the feeling that we will

HJL: Yeah, I hope so

SV: And maybe she'll have a new studio. OK, shall we head out? Let's say thank you also for our new jewellery

EB-V: Thank you a-Thank you!

HJL: You're welcome! So nice to have you here. Hej då!

[street sounds]

SV: I'm just gonna say my reflections. Helena seems super happy and healthy and uh, she's on summer vacation but she came in just for us. And she needs a new and bigger studio. So I hope the next time we see her she has a new and bigger studio.

EB-V: But um, can I, can I [microphone moves closer to her] What I like about her is because her has so much pretty things and also pink things and also that her has so many necklaces and beads. And I also like that her has so much art. And all those things.

SV: OK. Great, thanks!