A big shelf occupies the background; from the bottom to the top, the wall is full of books. Erika Janunger is the woman in front of them. Born and raised in the north of Sweden, Erika is everything you can think of, and even more. She is always trying to find different ways to fight against physical laws; that is always on her agenda. At the same time, the long journey Erika is making is all about discovering the breakeven point where the body is in tune with the most adverse environment. Fighting against the impossible, the restricted mind-set, and pragmatic ideas is one of her major life goals. Having an open mind, feeling a connection, being just another piece of the world’s puzzle and taking risks are the ideas that best describe her. Both super artsy and defiant – that is Erika Janunger, a woman who “doesn’t need to win, just needs to try.”
Architecture, cinema, music, dance, video. You do a bit of everything. How do you define yourself?
Hmm, super artsy. I don’t know. The boring answer is interior architect, music producer and film director. These three are the main ones, but honestly I would like to answer: an ordinary human being who is really inspired all the time. It is pretty much just about going wherever my inspiration leads me. My formal education evolves around interior architecture and that is my 9 to 5 job. Once a week I do everything else, as well as evenings and weekends.
Do you believe that you use the same source of inspiration for all your work?
It depends on how you define inspiration, I guess. I’m really inspired by my perception of everything, how things sound and look, and how I interpret whatever I experience.
So, your inspiration comes from your everyday life, rather than from philosophical concepts or extraordinary ideas.
Yes. That is the answer to everything, because just by observing the subway I can get inspired. I love to ride the subway because I really get into it. There’s movement, lightning, flashes, and you are there in the middle of that confusion and that shiver of light with your music on, and you are going into that hypnosis of impressions. That, for instance, is one kind of inspiration I draw from everyday life. But, obviously, I also get inspired by incredible architecture or by music, or even concepts, but that is a bit predictable.
Do you see all of your art as a whole or is it easier to look at it separately?
Architecture stands out above all, because all the other areas are focused on myself and it is me who filters them through my arms. Architecture is more about getting into the other person’s issues and discovering their basis and needs, then try to come up with a solution that suits someone else rather than myself. It is a nice working balance, I think, because otherwise everything evolves around my point of view.
If you see such a difference, how come you got involved in everything?
It was actually only music in the beginning. I come from a family of musicians; my mother plays the organ and my dad was a really good amateur classical pianist. I started playing the oboe, singing in choirs and playing the piano. But I wasn’t that keen on the music industry, so I switched to the arts – it was a surprise. I went to art school for a couple of years and I got really interested in 3D sculpture. Then, I got into rooms and construction and then I realised that I wanted to become an interior designer.
Dancing was sort of a hobby. I used to practise ballet and modern dance a couple of days a week, and I just did it carelessly until I got my master’s degree and I made the film Weightless. That’s when I realised that because I had been dancing for so long –I started when I was 5 and quit when I was 20, perhaps– I really had sort of a body conscience. I can feel the room and where a table or anything other object should be located. I feel what is like to sit on a table, I feel the textures, and if two elements are too far away I sort of feel that there is too much space in between and so I need to find something to fill that void. I also feel music in my body. I feel both the movement in music and the texture of sound inside me.
That is why you say, “my world is my body.” It’s not restricted but it is indeed the way you interact with the world.
Yes. And it is also giving my body the acknowledgement that it deserves, because sometimes it’s really easy to separate your mind from your body. You are not only a person whose body needs to be fed and exercised; everything that you do is done by your body, and everything that you interpret is made possible through it as well – you can listen, you can see, you can speak, you can play instruments with your body. Whatever you do is your body doing it, and I try to experience the world through my body because this way everything looks more concentrated. The impressions that you get are so much larger.
The body is everything, honestly; it is the system that makes sense of your perceptions, for instance. The body receives the information; your head works out the way to decipher it and tells you what to do. Just then, after deciding what to do, your body decides to either take an action or not. But all this is your body doing stuff and that means everything; that is life. Having a body means being alive. It’s very difficult for me to talk about this because of the utter gratitude I have towards my body for giving me this life experience.
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Is that the basis of what you define as “moving body”?
Hmm, let’s see. Everything is always moving, the entire universe is constantly moving; it is spinning round and round. And your body is always moving, too. Your blood stream sort of keeps it moving. Nothing is always still. And I think that is a rule of nature: everything is changing all the time. However, what really inspires me is finding both still motion and motion in stillness. It’s getting those two concepts to coexist that really intrigues me.
And how do you manage to find stillness in motion and motion in stillness?
If you see a still image you can feel some motion. You know that there is something behind and something beyond it. It’s like your mind sees the motion even though it’s a still image. You can see a lot of that in my work, especially in Weightless, where something is in motion, and although it seems to happen in slow motion it actually happens in real time, but your mind sees it in a weird way that makes you believe that the image is decelerated. 
What is your idea of controlling perception and sensations?
The trick is not to control anything. Let yourself be overflown by impressions, and do not evaluate them until later on. You should let your fascinations lead the way, rather than thinking about how to create something, or trying to control the process. You should let it go and try to stay away from the logical mind-set, to unleash from the structured way of thinking and go with the flow of what seems right, even if you can’t explain why. Just switch your intuition on and never judge anything, never slow the flow of enthusiasm down with stupid rational thinking.
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You have a special idea about gravity; could you explain that to me? How did you come up with that idea?
Gravity is a fascinating thing because it keeps us in this planet and keeps the universe from falling apart; it is an invisible structure that holds everything together, an incredible force. It just dawned on me when I was shooting some dancers: I realised that by turning the camera I could get certain effects, and that was cool. In time, I became more aware of how cool it actually was and realised how this incredible force is so important in everyday life. Even though we don’t pay a lot of attention to it, it is actually part of our everyday life and suddenly, if you take notice of it, you get to see how huge it really is. Just building a room that defies gravity takes a lot of snails, screws and duct tape, and it involves a lot of hard work. Gravity is so strong.
Do you truly believe that it’s possible to defy gravity?
Unless you go out in space, it’s absolutely impossible. But I love to try to do it in my mind and play some illusion tricks. Sometimes I get really annoyed when people tell me that something cannot be done. I remember my Maths teacher once told me that parallel lines could never ever meet each other. I was really annoyed by that idea I was taught for such a long time, until one day I just realised that they eventually meet on the horizon line, and then I felt fine. I don’t know why I was so frustrated, but I had a hard time thinking about it. I don’t know how to deal with something that restricts or limits my mind, and sometimes I just need to be able to outsmart a thought or a law, and turn it into a philosophical question, rather than a mathematical one.
Weightless was your master’s degree final project. How did you come up with the idea?
To be perfectly honest, I was going to make a music video and I created the set for another song. Then we found this weird angle along the way, and so I decided to change the set and then the song didn’t fit in. I had to create different music and lyrics, so it was a really backwards creation. The funny thing is that you can work with something without having a fixed idea, and afterwards you can edit and change your original idea and make it more meaningful.
That is how I work: I have an original idea, I work with that, and then on set you see things and get inspired by other things, so then your start trying new things, which sometimes end up being much better than the original idea, and in the end you can see the meaning changing. You also discover other things while editing that end up being a completely new project. It is always a process, and I always try to be open to other things.
Longing to fly/Longing to fall was a risky project, in which all the team was put at risk because of the tough conditions on set. How was it?
It was really cold. It was November in Sweden, so it was really close to the freezing point and one day it was raining, too. And yes, it was tough, but the schedule was tight and we had to keep going. Luckily, dancers are honestly the most professional people in the world. They just get into it and do it, so that was actually how it came off. I love working with dancers, they are so professional and so passionate about what they do. Once they did it, it was much worse for me, since I was heavily pregnant and it wasn’t a good idea for me to go up and down a hill; I was really in pain. Going outside to film took us a long time, since we had to change lightning, rearrange everything and sometimes the set was not what we had in mind. For example, we tried to film in an angled way but it was too exhausting for the dancers, because they were drowning in sawdust. On the other hand, the other set was stickier, and so we could do whatever we wanted.
In all the areas of your work, it seems pretty obvious that you have a special connection with nature. Why?
I’m from the northern part of Sweden, where the climate is quiet and hard. People are obsessed with it because it can change drastically and be potentially lethal, and that reality affects your life. On the one hand, you have big dark closed forests, whereas, on the other hand, you have the wide-open unpredictable ocean. These things touch you and affect your life, and all of this beauty affects your work as well. I don’t understand why we humans separate ourselves from nature even though we are nature. We are animals that are part of nature, but I can’t understand why we still consider ourselves special or different from the rest.
You also use a lot the advantages that light and colour have to offer. Do you find these two to be a determining factor in order to have a connection with the space you’re in?
Of course, specially light, since it totally affects the way that you see, work and feel comfortable, not only in the space but also with the space.
And now, what are you working on?
I’m in a really inspirational mood for music right now. I met a technician in a theatre when I was in Lisbon, and we are now working together and creating new things. I am also working in an exhibition until next January, for which I am building two interactive scenographies that are tilted in different angles so that people can get inside, move around and see themselves while being filmed. It is a time related experience. And yes, there’s a bit of everything of my work.
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