Johanna Strobel: Research and time

The artist Johanna Strobel in her studio. Photo credit: Dominik Bindl

New York City/Munich – Interview and Studiovisit with the artist Johanna Strobel about research, clocks and the simultaneous small- and vastness of the artworld.

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Where are you right now?
I’m online- physically I sit at my desk but I’m doing virtual research.

Could you tell us about your work?
I work interdisciplinary in sculpture, installation, video and painting. Based on my background in math and information science, my work explores unwieldy concepts like time and space, information and power, entropy, language and meaning. Often my work employs cliché, kitsch and consumer aesthetics and imagery.

What are you working on right now?
Right now I am working on a VR piece which will be part of a sculptural installation.

Work by Johanna Strobel exhibited in GIG MUNICH. Photo Credit: Johanna Strobel

You seem to come back to clocks often, what do they mean to you?
I‘m really interested in time. Time perceived internally but also time created and controlled by external circumstances. Personally I have difficulties subordinating my time. I‘m always anxious about being late, because I often am.  My inner clock is not so well aligned with institutionalized time- which was tiring for me especially when I was still in school and had to function within the given schedule. I‘m a night person. I have a hard time doing anything before noon.

Clocks are curious to me because they are arbitrary. They are round repetitive instruments using random standardized units that are supposed to measure something we perceive as linear and which for us can never be repeated 

Atomic clocks don’t even reference the rotation of the earth anymore but oscillating electrons. They are thus supposed to be ‘more exact’. Due to that in most areas time is out of sync with nature: the sun’s midday peak rarely anywhere coincides with noon.

Are there clocks you have a closer relationship with? 
A specific clock that I reference in several of my works is a sunset/sunrise clock my parents had in our kitchen when I was a kid. It was a stylized illustrative wall clock that showed an ocean and a rising or setting sun. As a child I always thought there was a way to find out if it was a sunset or sunrise- but of course there was not. I was constantly hoping for the image to change with the actual time. The ambiguity of the image and the transitory moment on pause on an object that never paused was both frustrating and exciting to me.

Work by Johanna Strobel. Photo credit: Dominik Bindl

What drives you to do what you do?
Honestly, I‘m interested in anything and everything. I spend a lot of time reading and going down rabbit holes, following footnotes of footnotes. Making work for me is part of a research process and a way to connect dots.

What kind of atmosphere do you like when you work?
I like it to be bright, neat and practical. I don’t like cluttered spaces. I feel like free physical space also opens up free mental space for me.

What are your favorite items in your studio?
My favorite items are probably the books I’m reading at the time and post-it’s. I like to associatively and visually arrange and group notes, sketches and thoughts on the wall.

Johanna Strobel in her studio. Photo credit: Dominik Bindl

What are you curious about? What would you like to explore further?
Broadly speaking I am curious about how meaning is created, attributed and suspended and how we as humans try to find it and construct our realities around it – actively and passively.
On a more narrow, technical level I have spent the last 3 month learning how to model and animate in 3D because I‘m working on a VR project. I have never worked in this medium before and am curious about all the possibilities that come with it.
I’m really excited about the technical side of things in general and I always want to learn everything myself. For the kinetic and responsive sculptures at GIG for example I learned how to code the programs that controlled the motion sensors and motors (Interviewers note: GIG is an artspace in Munich, find an article we published on it here).

Which artwork, exhibition or piece of media inspired you recently?
I feel like I’m constantly looking at so much stuff, that it’s hard to answer that. I recently read “Glitch Feminism” by Legacy Russell and am half way through “The order of time” by Carlo Rovelli. I listen to a lot of Mozart because my brain likes it and it’s helping me think and a lot of it is funny. In terms of shows I recently was inspired by: I really loved Brian Oakes‘ “Nocturne No. 1”, Rachel Rose‘s “Enclosure”, Kalas Liebfried‘s “Reading the Air” and Ed Atkins “The Worm”.

Johanna Strobel in her studio. Photo credit: Dominik Bindl

You have studied in Munich (Germany) and New York City (USA). What are differences or similarities?
Studying and living in Munich and New York made me realize how small the art world is in one way but also how big it is in another. In Munich studying felt very free and things have a more open ended vibe to them. In New York everything is more scheduled and timed but also more efficient for that. Munich to me feels slower and relaxed and because it’s way smaller it is more familiar and you always meet someone you know -which is wonderful. In New York you barely run into the same person twice- also because there is always so much to see and do that one lives in a constant state of fomo. I wouldn’t want to miss both experiences.

Which artists, curators or other art world people do you recommend for the readers to check out?
The readers should check out their own friends’ work. Both the offline ones and the ones they just know from online platforms. I think it’s super interesting, rewarding and fun to do mutual studio visits, even virtual ones, and talk about each other’s projects. Or to talk to curator friends about their current projects and research. Often we just see snippets of each other’s work or fully “finished” work, especially if not in an art school setting anymore. Sometimes shows are not the right place to have in-depth conversations about the work, especially not about work in progress or more experimental projects.

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