Psymedia

Mikhail Johnson – Exclusive Interview

Mikhail Johnson is an installation artist and stage designer from Cape Town, South Africa. Over the years, he has gained recognition in the industry.

Q&A with Mikahil Johnson

How did you become involved in the music festival industry?

After high school I had a big interest in art, music and culture. Music festivals (not all) provided a little bit of each so my draw to it was simple.

I studied engineering and as my part time job I worked at a company called Makesense Management. It was a turnkey events management solution company.

I started working with bigger art installations for different festivals and clients. We did jobs for some of the biggest festivals in South Africa and Europe. 

It started getting serious about 6/7 years ago and I mainly focused on Art installations. I traveled and worked abroad for a few consecutive years and learnt a lot.

Shout out to Dane Stirrat from Eden Festival for giving me my first opportunity to completely take creative control of things and for Mathew Herrington for taking me all across the world to learn and see how the big boys and girls did things. 

Do you have any training or education that assists with the job?

I studied Mechanical Engineering after high school and recently started a Mechatronic Engineering course through Unisa about 2 years ago. Both of them weirdly enough help me navigate my style and approach to things in this art installation world. The engineering side and software side has definitely been a key component in moving through the industry.

Are there any artists or mentors who have influenced your style?

I have had the privilege of working with Carin Dickson and Daniel Popper multiple times. To say that they don’t have the biggest influence on me would be a lie. I try to steer clear of their styles but both of them are in my opinion the best in the world at what they do.

Other influences I have are:

  • Zaha Hadid
  • Loyiso Mkize
  • Anda Mnncayi
  • Joseph Klibanksy
  • Steven Winterbach
  • J Fenton
  • Bjorn Jenelik
  • Kaws
  • Gabriel Schama
  • Sumski
  • Polly kole
  • Android Jones
  • Digital intuition
  • Christopher Dowding
  • Mark d Viraj (NFTs)
  • Art by Williamthethird (NFTs)
  • Dylan Kowalski (NFTs)

What are your favourite materials to work with?

Definitely foam and softer material nowadays. Wood has been my go to for the past few but I prefer to focus on other materials.

How has your work evolved?

I feel I’m getting better but I still have some way to go for sure. I can definitely build anything I draw nowadays. Knowing that gives me a good degree of freedom in design

What type of projects do you specialize in?

Oversized Art installations

Which festivals and establishments have you worked for?

Wow, it’s a big list. Here are just a select few:

ART AND MUSIC FESTIVALS 

  • Elrow Festival (Amsterdam) (Artescape Design Team) 2021 
  • Modem Festival (Croatia) 2017 – 2019
  • Firefly Music Festival (Delaware USA) (Daniel Popper Art) 
  • Shankra Festival (Switzerland) 2017 + 2018
  • Psy-Fi Festival (Netherlands) (Artescape Fabrication team) 2016 
  • Jameson Whiskey Festival (Kenya) 2016
  • Secy Groovey Love 2015 – current
  • Habitat Festival 2021 – current
  • Rezonance New Years Festival 2016 – 2018
  • Rocking the Daisies – 2015 – 2017
  • Psymedia Festival 2019 – current
  • Eden 2018 + 2019   
  • AfricaBurn Tankwa – 2017, 2019
  • Alien Safari 2016 – 2020
  • Mixed Feelings Festival 2018 – current
  • Sneaky House Party 2015 – current
  • Jameson Up the Creek – 2016
  • Fools Day Out 2021 – current

CORPORATE, CONCEPT SPACES, STORES AND RESTAURANTS

  • Design Indaba 2019
  • Allan Gray Cape Town Staff Functions 2017 – 2020
  • PlusOne Festival 2016
  • Esizayo Livestream Events 2020 (MF)
  • Ilukuluku Temple of Curiosity 2020 model
  • The EGG Store – Cavendish Square Mall,  Cape Town 
  • Fools Gold Restaurant – Dorp Street, Stellenbosch
  • Infusion on Long – Long Street, Cape Town CBD
  • Lush Gentlemans Club 2022 – Main Road – Seapoint
  • Dmoon Studio – CBD Cape Town 

What’s the most difficult thing about the job?

Deadlines. In most jobs deadlines can be shifted or extended. In this type of work it’s concrete. Its hardcore sometimes especially when you are trying to push something new

How long does it typically take to build a stage?

In the busy season it takes around 3-4 months ish for the whole process (design, fabricate, install). I feel comfortable with about 5 months of prep for on season work. 

What tips would you give to someone who wants to start in your line of work?

Sign yourself up for every opportunity to see. Be relentless to learn and do what others won’t. Technology is so crucial in this day and age so stay up to date with different software and processes on how to create. Don’t be afraid to struggle or learn. 

What is your signature on your projects? What are you paying attention to make your projects unique? 

I’m trying to cross over to a more new school style of building structures for festivals. I try to incorporate new school methods of fabrication wherever I can.

I also try very hard to differentiate myself from others in terms of style. Lately, I’ve been trying to concentrate on more African influences as well.

I stick to a wood, gold, black and white colour palette.

Do you have any career goals you haven’t achieved yet?

I have a few festivals in Europe and Australia that I would like to work for but other than that I think I’d like to stop doing music festivals in the near future and only focus on art installations. I have a beautiful son that I’d like to raise so having more free time would be great.

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