Best of CityPlace
Making Visible the Invisible, artist Jordan Söderberg Mills
Chances are if you’ve been to any one of Toronto’s major art events this year – AGO Massive, Power Plant’s Power Ball or Luminato, you’ve been reflected in the work of Jordan Söderberg Mills. After years of studying abroad in London, England and Santiago, Chile, and showing recently in Milan as part of Milan Design Week, the emerging artist’s large scale, light and colour refracting “magic” mirrors have Toronto’s art scene enchanted. His work is currently on display at the Hearn Generating Station as part of a new Design Exchange satellite exhibition for this year’s Luminato Festival until this Sunday, June 26 and a series of his photographic works are on display at Katzman Contemporary Art Gallery until July 9.
LC: You recently graduated from Central Saint Martins, one of the top art schools in the world. How did you end up there after growing up in Ontario?
JSM: I first studied Art History at Trinity College at U of T but I was a terrible student – it wasn’t until after I left school and was introduced to Chilean artist Francisco Gazitua that my real education in art began. My family’s business is involved with public art around the city, and they oversaw the selection and installation of several of Gazitua’s pieces at Concord CityPlace. I met him while these artworks were being developed and he eventually offered me an apprenticeship.
It was an opportunity of a lifetime. I learned to forge, weld and carve stone in his studio on the side of a cliff in the foothills of the Andes. I helped out on several projects for Concord, including Puente de Luz, Gazitua’s bridge spanning the rail corridor at CityPlace.
LC: What kind of art do you do and what ideas are you trying to convey through it?
JSM: I’m a sculptor inspired by physics, natural sciences, the Light and Space movement, Op Art, Latin magic realists, sci-fi and fantasy, wizards, and monsters. Moments that subvert your senses and question whether what you’re seeing is real.
Conceptually I’m trying to understand the natural world around me. Us and everything around us are all magnificent little distortions in the electromagnetic field. My practice is a series of experiments that try to make visible the invisible – playing with this tenuous border between material reality and subjective perception. I use many techniques and processes used in the scientific analysis, with outcomes in phenomenology and aesthetics rather than data collection or practical innovation.
Technically I have worked with steel, stone and glass, but lately, my work has been with light and optics. Artists for generations have been trying to capture light in their manner – chiaroscuro in Renaissance painting, the advent of photography, Op Art – creating artifacts that represent how they see the world. The work that I do is my way of capturing light.
LC: Tell me about the pieces at Luminato and how they fit into your body of work.
JSM: I’m creating installations and objects that play with light and colour as a raw material – most recently expressed as mirrors and this caught the attention of the team at The Design Exchange. They were instrumental in getting my work over from Europe and organizing the Luminato project. They encourage experimental work, and saw these objects as conceptually flexible, occupying a space somewhere between art and design.
The pieces I’m showing at Luminato are extensions of my series, titled Anaglyph and Parabola. These are sculptural pieces that use physics to play with the ambient light in the space, producing reflections in different colours through refraction. I wanted to give the sense that light operates as a wave and that colour can be produced mechanically.
JSM: After Luminato, what’s next?
Regarding what’s next, I’m in talks with some American public institutions, and a fantastic museum in Denmark that’s assembling a show on Synesthesia. I’ve been told that some of my idols will be exhibiting in the same show, so I’m trying to quell my squealing, fanboy instincts.
LC: What have these opportunities meant to you as an emerging artist?
JSM: I was a total disaster as a young adult, bouncing around between academic disciplines, institutions, and countries. I felt unfocused, untethered, and unclear on what I wanted to do with my life. I failed at so many things I’d tried, which was hard emotionally.
I’ve admired the Power Plant since I was a kid and never thought I’d see my name on a wall in there. Their team was supportive, enthusiastic and walked me through the process of exhibiting on a large scale. I’ve learned a ton, and I think it’s making me a stronger artist.
I can’t even express how huge these opportunities have been for me. To have my work involved with such prestigious institutions at this point in my career has given me a sense of confidence and validation that I never expected. These past few weeks in Toronto have coalesced my drive and given me the energy to continue my work.
LC: What do you think these sorts of events do for our city?
They allow people to experience art outside of their traditional context. Museums can be quiet, contemplative, and sometimes a little intimidating. Having an open bar and a little Reggaeton helps people to loosen up, engage with work, talk about the art openly and perhaps not take it so seriously.
JSM: Has the Toronto art scene changed since you last lived here?
Enormously. The city feels so much bigger, more ambitious, and slick. It has the feel of bigger cities like London or New York but still maintains that baseline assumption of kindness and respect that I love about Canada. We have always had brilliant institutions, museums, and galleries, both public and private.
It feels like the city is hosting more ambitious, public art events like Nuit Blanche, Luminato, and Power Ball. Mixed with an amazing public art program funded by real estate developers like Concord Adex (who also generously sponsored my Luminato project), you have art bursting out of their traditional contexts and splashing across the city.
LC: What is next for you? Where do you ideally see yourself in 5 years?
JSM: I can’t wait to get back in the workshop. I am developing a project for an opera house in Europe, visualizing sound waves and the patterns that emerge from harmonics. I have a new series of sculptural works involving polarized light that are tricky to explain, but hopefully, you’ll see them next year on a big scale. I’ve met some interesting people from Western Canada, who are interested in collaborations with performance. In 5 years I hope to expand my studio, experiment more, collaborate more, produce more, and take on more ambitious projects here in Canada and abroad.
LC: How do you move those giant mirrors around?
JSM: Art handlers from Museumpros and Artverb, forklifts, suction cups, teamwork, elbow grease and a little swearing.