Artist and designer Jordan Söderberg Mills is sharing his life and work cycle in Toronto.
Dear Jordan, please tell us;
Who you are
My name is Jordan Söderberg Mills, and I’m an artist/designer from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. I’ve called London, Barcelona and Santiago home - at the moment I’m between Chile and Germany.
Lately I’ve been working in glass and light, building atmospheres and objects that skirt the edges of our perception. Our senses tell us that the world is built in a certain way, but logic, reason, and experimentation shows us that that’s only a small margin of what is actually happening. I’m trying to show you that there is a lot more depth, and wonder, to the world around us.
Creativity sets us free from ourselves. It’s a way of showing how you think, or feel. It lets others see inside of us, without a colonoscopy, and without relying on the sticky traps of language.
Creativity is empathy, it is politics, it is history, it is idea mediated through emotion. Creativity is physical philosophy, it is the search for truth and beauty, as object, as experience, as form.
Structure your creative process
1. Experiment. Shine light through different materials, see how they catch it. Attend trade fairs for unconventional surfaces, and scour libraries for new, weird stuff.
Research, research, research. Read everything! Inter-dimensional science fiction, the latest discoveries in particle physics, treatises from evil wizards. Blast laser beams through crystals, through mirrors, into layered structures. What kinds of patterns emerge? How can I break light apart? More importantly, how can I rebuild it?
2. Simplify. Iterate, iterate, iterate. How can this effect be produced on a small scale? On a huge scale? How can I recreate this experiment in a spare and minimal way? Cut the fat, make it leaner. Refine, refine, refine. Coco Chanel said to look in the mirror and take one thing away - elegance is as much in the denial as in the detail.
3. Build. Frame. Make it stand up. Ask for help if you’re worried it’ll collapse and decapitate you. Weld, grind, polish, finish, coat. Make these structures exquisite, minimal, executed perfectly. Beauty is in the millimetre. Elegance comes from moments of transition, so focus on how the materials join. Drink water. Cloister yourself in a welding helmet and make the damn thing.
4. Hustle. Photograph your pieces well - trust others and their creative vision if you suck with a camera. Share, share, share. Contact journalists, contact curators, do a popup or collaborate with another creative, especially from different media. Success will not come to you if you don’t hunt it like a feral kitty. If nobody beats your door down, cut a hole in the wall. Create opportunities if you aren’t finding any. Be nice, but firm. Like a butt.
What makes a city creative? List 5 aspects
1. Access. Affordable studio and living spaces, transit, infrastructure - some of the most innovative ideas don’t just come from rich kids.
2. Freedom. Open dialogues, transparency, fearlessness to express difference.
3. Creative Economy. Whether you make fetishized objects for investment bankers, rebrand cracker factories, or make ballgowns that leave you shook, a creative city needs industry to financially support creative entrepreneurs.
4. Creative Communities. Spaces to share skills, find mutual support, and collaborate are key. I connected with some of the most incredible, talented and kind people at Blackhorse Workshop in London, and the Junction Workshop in Toronto. If you try to do these things alone, you’ll end up losing a finger or get eaten by wolves.
5. Difference. Indian Night Markets, neon signs in Chinatown, the Jamaican bus driver who sang me an elegy that morning on the Ossington bus. Dip in, respectfully, to the artifacts and creative production of the cultures around you. Don’t appropriate, but feel. Find your own voice and sing.
What makes your city creative?
Toronto is a young city, in a young country. Everyone comes from somewhere else, aside from First Nations people, and we recognize this. In fact, we celebrate it, we point it out at any opportunity. We aren’t perfect - Canada as a whole is not free from prejudice or hate - but the majority of us fight it like our most vicious infantry, the Canada goose. Many of us in Toronto try to find ways to coexist peacefully and respectfully. This means we’re open to new and different ideas. It is so damn cold in the winter that we huddle around our fires (our central heating,) find mutual support, try to stay warm and survive, and share our stories. I think our climate turns us inward, or towards each other, which pushes us to use our imaginations, to share. Our institutions are very quick to support emerging talents. I had big shows from The Power Plant, Design Exchange, and the Art Gallery of Ontario within a year of graduating from Central Saint Martins. That’s bananas. I am eternally grateful to Toronto institutions - they took a chubby weirdo with an interest in the cosmos, and helped me build an international career.