New Voices in the Nordics: Charlotte Johannesson

An interview between the artist Charlotte Johannesson and curator Fafaya Mogensen

Charlotte Johannesson, installation view, Compute, Croy Nielsen, Vienna, 2024

Courtesy of the artist and Croy Nielsen, Vienna. Photo by

Artist Charlotte Johannesson was born in Malmö in 1943. She is trained as a weaver and studied at Hemslöjden, a school for applied textile crafts. In the 1970s, she began delving into digital images and culture. A few years later, she and her husband Sture Johannesson founded The Digital Theatre [1] (Digitalteatern) in Malmö.

This interview – at times concise, conversational, informational – was conducted over the course of one month, first via email, then in person, then finished through e-mail. I travelled to her house in Skåne. A house which sits among a long row of standardized buildings. The front door catches the eye with its distinct shade of pink, a choice to make her house easily recognizable, she tells me. The color harmonizes with the flowers in the garden and her clothes.

Inside, we find ourselves in a dimly lit living room where coffee and cake are being served. Johannesson’s works are signs and themes that are both in and of time. Experiencing her work, I get a sense of myself as belonging to a category, a generation. The tear, the glitch, and the re-figuration sits clearly within Johannesson’s practice. Pixilated figures or slogans embroidered onto different media appear like a two-way street, back and forth, now, and then. It is a zigzag through various ins and outs, that questions the relations of (in)dependence between images, times, and their distribution.

Her practice succeeds in both a material- and historical charged meeting. Who else than Charlotte Johannesson could be so adept in bridging pre- and post-Internet consciousness?

Charlotte Johannesson, Untitled, 1984 (detail), computer graphics plotted on paper, 18.5 × 12.8 cm, 42 × 52 × 3.5 cm (framed)

Courtesy of the artist, Hollybush Gardens, London and Croy Nielsen, Vienna. Photo by

Charlotte, it is such a pleasure to have this conversation with you. If I may, I want to start with the colloquialism about the real world vs. the digital world. One might call this binary “two star-crossed lovers” who are competing in a zero-sum game. How did weaving help you understand and work with the early computers in the 1970s?

When I first began using the Apple computer in 1979 and later became involved with Digital Theatre [1] from 1981 to 1986, it faced resistance in the art world. In The Digital Theatre, my husband could conceive the ideas, but a programmer was needed to translate them into a language the computer could understand. This led to my involvement, although my interest was solely in images rather than computing. However, when I delved into literature on these "personal computers" such as the Apple computer and Apple II, I found myself intrigued. I realized that acquiring a personal computer would allow us to explore new potential.

I made one work where I wrote "take me to another world," because in some ways it felt like jumping into another world, where you had to operate on the computer’s terms. For me, it was quite easy to understand since I had been weaving for many years and learned how meticulous calculation is important to figure out how things work. In weaving, you work with a specific number of thread systems (warp threads), just like how early computers operated with a limited number of pixels—192 by 280 pixels, to be exact. This parallel between weaving and early digital technology was significant at the time, as it helped me understand how to create digital images. I don't think I would have started otherwise. It’s somewhat like weaving; once you start weaving, you begin to understand it.

Charlotte Johannesson, installation view, Compute, Croy Nielsen, Vienna, 2024

Courtesy of the artist and Croy Nielsen, Vienna. Photo by

Your works have a remarkable topical character in their ability to exhibit the setting of their own making, the parallel between weaving and early digital technology seems like a delicate dance. Could you give an example of how you work with this parallel?

It has always felt the same for me. When I weave, I create the images first. I start by drawing them on transparent graph paper in a large format, where each square corresponds to a warp thread. Then, I hang it on the loom and weave row by row.

I always have a clear vision of how I want the finished image to look, and if it’s supposed to look a certain way, it must be precise. When I first started weaving images, I had learned many weaving techniques, attended school, and invested time in the craft of weaving. In the 1960s, I was inspired by the Native American weavers from Mexico and Peru, who often used straight and square figures.

Charlotte Johannesson, installation view, Compute, Croy Nielsen, Vienna, 2024

Courtesy of the artist and Croy Nielsen, Vienna. Photo by

Let’s go back a bit: The introduction to the artist Hannah Ryggen has had an impact on your practice. How did you experience Ryggen’s works? What was your draw to her at a time when you were still figuring out your own visual language?

When I was at weaving school, our headmistress held a deep fascination for Ryggen’s work. She had known or met Hannah Ryggen, and one day she showed us some pictures that left me thinking, "Wow, that's what you should be making in weaving school." Because in weaving school, you learn techniques, but creativity isn’t really encouraged.

Here in Skåne, we also have a rich weaving tradition that's somewhat pixel-based, similar to what was woven in the cottages. They crafted many practical items but made them remarkably beautiful and inventive. The weavers here were highly skilled artisans. My great-grandmother, who lived in another part of Skåne, was one of these skilled weavers, and there were many like her who created beautiful pieces. While their focus was on intricate patterns and not on creating pictures per se, I still find the tradition inspiring.

Charlotte Johannesson, Take Me to Another World, 2019, Wool, digitally woven, 107 × 59 cm

Courtesy of the artist, Hollybush Gardens, London and Croy Nielsen, Vienna. Photo by

To follow the ‘thread of time’, much of your work collects or documents a specific period. One reference could be your digital artworks, Faces of the 1980s, portraying pop cultural figures such as Boy George, David Bowie, and Ronald Reagan, among others. Could you talk about the motivations behind the periods of time that you choose in your work?

The works I make are very much influenced by time. Sure, they are political, but the point of departure is first and foremost the time I live in. One day I received a pop magazine that had an invitation to create an image of Boy George. A digital image. I thought to myself, ‘Okay, let’s see if that could work,’ and it turned out to be quite fun. I am also a fan of David Bowie, so I decided to also make a digital image of him. Later, during the war in Afghanistan, I saw a picture of the Afghan resistance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud in the newspaper and made a portrait of him as well.

Charlotte Johannesson, installation view, Compute, Croy Nielsen, Vienna, 2024

Courtesy of the artist and Croy Nielsen, Vienna. Photo by

You mentioned both René Magritte and Ulrike Meinhof as sources of interest and inspiration. You have one clear reference in your work Apple from 2019, in which you repurpose Magritte’s famous apple image, namely, Le Jeu De Morre, from 1966. Could you elaborate on how their work and lives influenced your artistic development?

René Magritte [2] and I share the same birthday, so I discovered his work early on and found it superb. His approach to creating images resonates deeply with me. As he famously said, "This is not an apple." Another artist who intrigued me was Reinhardt [3]; he experimented with many unconventional ideas. I took inspiration from these concepts and adapted them in my own way.

I prefer art that is easily comprehensible without anything strange or obscure. Everyone should be able to grasp the idea that ‘an apple in art is not an apple’; it points to something entirely distinct from a physical apple in your hand. Similarly, phrases like "A rose is a rose is a rose" also intrigued me because of the philosophical implications. I often incorporate the same form across different material; weaving, lace, paper graphics ect. Certain figures recur frequently, each with its own symbolic significance. Ulrike Meinhof [4] also captured my interest; she was a former journalist who had a profound impact through her writings and activism, particularly with troubled young girls. Her commitment to making a difference stood out to me.

Charlotte Johannesson, Apple, 1984, computer graphics plotted on paper, 13.5 × 18 cm, 42 × 52 × 3.5 cm (framed)

Courtesy of the artist, Hollybush Gardens, London and Croy Nielsen, Vienna. Photo by

"The works I make are very much influenced by time. Sure, they are political, but the point of departure is first and foremost the time I live in."

Charlotte Johannesson


Charlotte Johannesson’s work presents a synthesis between the artisanal and the digital. Her practice involves working with both the craft technology of the loom and the digital technology of computer programming, exploring their formal and conceptual connections. Trained as a weaver, Johannesson began creating tapestries in the 1970s as art to address socio-political injustices. From her early experiments across textile and technology, Johannesson’s practice has developed to encompass various media including weaving, painting, digital print and digital slideshows Merging traditional weaving techniques with the experimental investigation of early computer technology, Johannesson continues to reinvent her practice to explore the possibilities for social and cultural change.

Charlotte Johannesson (b. 1943, Malmö, SE) lives and works in Skanör, Sweden. Recent solo exhibitions include: Kunsthalle Friart Fribourg (Fribourg; CH), Nottingham Contemporary (Nottingham; UK) (both 2023); Badischer Kunstverein (Karlsruhe; DE), Hollybush Gardens (London; UK) (both 2022); Museo Reina Sofia (Madrid; ES) (2021).

Charlotte Johannesson, installation view Take Me To Another World, Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid, 2021. Courtesy the artist, Croy Nielsen, Vienna, and Hollybush Gardens, London

Fafaya Mogensen (b. 1996) is a Copenhagen-based curator and writer specialising in artists who blend mediums such as musical performance, performance art, film, and video art. Her curatorial focus centres on new understandings of the relationships among art, institutions, and underrepresented subject positions. In 2021, she co-founded the nomadic curatorial platform Arrange the Ants, which aims to create space for BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic), femme, queer, and working-class individuals in the art world. She currently works as a Curator and Project Manager for artistic research at Art Hub Copenhagen. Her writing has appeared in Kunstkritikk, E-flux, and Provinciale11. She holds a BA in History of Art and an MFA in Curating from the University of Copenhagen and Goldsmiths, University of London.

[1] The Digital Theatre (Digitalteatern) in Malmö was the first digital arts laboratory in Scandinavia. The lab functioned as a self-managed and institutional platform for both artistic projects and professional research. The Digital Theatre was active until 1985. Her husband handled the technical and Charlotte was in charge of the graphic production.

[2] René Magritte (1898-1967) was Belgian painter and well-known Surrealist. Magritte began his career as a graphic artist and posed questions to the nature of representation.

[3] Ad Reinhardt (1913–1967) was an American painter who encouraged the viewer’s active engagement in the act of looking at and experiencing art.

[4] Ulrike Marie Meinhof (1934-1976) was a German journalist and leftist commentator. In 1968, she became a prominent figure in the Red Army Faction (RAF).