This story is over 5 years old.


Emanuel Röhss Helped Me Understand the Purpose of Art

His latest exhibition Soft Jazz makes my mind go on for hours.

Emanuel Röhss Soft Jazz, Carl Kostyál / Isbrytaren. Photo: Viktor Fordell

In Swedish artist Emanuel Röhss's latest exhibition, Soft Jazz, architectural objects have been turned into art because he says so. That's pretty much the ultimate task of an artist: to question an object in space and time, and make the audience think about the object's origins and place. I mean, to me, that's what makes art so confusing but also so very interesting. Art is supposed to get your mind going, and things don't have to be trippy or abstract to get there. That's what I like about Emanuel's latest work.


To make the whole art VS object VS architecture even more interesting, Soft Jazz is exhibited in the after summer reopened art gallery Isbrytaren, in Stockholm (which also is an art gallery because someone says so). There, the architecture makes it difficult to distinguish Emanuel's art from the room's functional objects.

Just look at this photo:

Emanuel Röhss Soft Jazz, Carl Kostyál / Isbrytaren. Photo: Viktor Fordell. Red edits by the author
Can you tell what it is in that room that is art and what isn't?

Now, I believe that all poles in that photo are art. Obviously the grey pole has a more functional approach than the white ones. People usually associate boring with functional – a little bit like you shouldn't have fun at work, not even if your work is "art". However, the grey, functional pole seems to have a draining pipe attached to it, which is utterly pointless when you're indoors. Also, you don't need the pole when the walls are carrying the roof anyway.

So can functional objects be art or is art always just an object without purpose? Doesn't everything have a purpose, even if it's not functional? Just looking at that one photo from Soft Jazz has made my mind go on for hours. What is art and what isn't? Can I decide what it is in that room that is art? If so, I'd like to nominate the floor.

I think I'm safe to say that art doesn't necessarily have to have any other purpose than to be nice to look at. Anyway, to get my head around Soft Jazz and the man behind the work, I called up Emanuel to get some answers. Since the exhibition opens tonight and I want to go, I thought It'd be good to know what in that room I should look at, 'cause I don't want to end up staring at the ceiling, unless the ceiling is art.


Before talking with Emanuel I learned that the name of his exhibition comes from architect Oscar Niemeyer's idea that Brazilian modernist buildings are "soft like jazz music" because they have circular shapes attached to functional buildings. To me, that explained Emanuel's work a bit further.

Emanuel Röhss Soft Jazz, Carl Kostyál / Isbrytaren. Photo: Viktor Fordell. Red edits by the author
VICE: Hi Emanuel. Tell me about this exhibition.
Emanuel Röhss: It's an exhibition about architectural references, which I've had my focus on while spending time at an artist residency in Sao Paolo during this spring and summer.

That explains the Brazilian references around the name of the show. But could you explain to me what it is you do when you work?
I take elements from existing architecture and put casts on them so I can move them from one context to another. That's the basis of the exhibition.

How do you do that?
Well, I find objects that I find particular or that I think have character, which I think are excessive for a building, and that have a more aesthetic application. So I'm interested in taking these decorations out of their original context and turn them into autonomous objects.

Emanuel Röhss Soft Jazz, Carl Kostyál / Isbrytaren. Photo: Viktor Fordell. Red edits by the author
Can you give me an example?
Yes. For example, my paintings are based on ornamented windows from a 50s modernist building in Sao Paulo. I casted them in silicone and used the moulds as stamps [to print with]. Their [Brazilian] modernistic buildings differ from our [European]. They have taken an architectural idea that is straight linear and logical and put their Latin twists to it. In that way, the shapes become curvy, smooth, and nicer to look at.


But how do you find these objects on modern buildings?
I try to look for things that are excessive or that have been put there only for their aesthetics, even though they're on a functional building, which the architect have chosen to decorate. That's pretty rare to see on modern buildings in Europe, but in Latin America the aesthetics have conquered so they dominate the experience of the building in many cases.

Right. So basically you've recreated beautiful, excessive objects, that you've removed from functional buildings, and decided to exhibit them in the shape of art?

So I can look at whatever I want once I arrive at the gallery?
Yes. There's another exhibition going on there, too. A group exhibition curated by Jim Thorell, which I'm also part of. You should have a look at that, too.

I will. Thanks, Emanuel.

Emanuel Röhss's exhibition Soft Jazz opens tonight from 6PM alongside two other exhibitions at Isbrytaren, Igeldammsgatan 22A, Stockholm, Sweden. Find everything you need to know here.

More about art:

I'm Sick Of Pretending: I Don't "Get" Art

I Went to Art Basel and Tried to "Get" Art

OK, Do It: Teach Me How to "Get" Art