We meet four young women tapping into what they enjoy most about life and using it to showcase their diverse talents, be it in music, jewellery design, publishing or art. They’re intriguing the world around them and they’ve chosen to do it all in the creative hub that is the UK’s capital.
Having moved from Sweden to London two years ago, Jaana-Kristiina Alakoski, now 24, has been unleashing her talent at Central Saint Martins, where she is studying for a BA in fine arts. She uses a rare kind of imagination and modern digital techniques to find a way to distort reality as we know it, offering new perspectives of the world to be found within and around us.
What are you drawn to and what do you seek to explore through your art?
“I’ve mainly been trying to understand and contextualise Instagram art. This is my way of investigating identity and socialisation processes – by placing and portraying myself in the midst of such things. It also means I can investigate social-media usage and stuff like that. Both in video and performance in the context of Instagram, but also more and more outside of Instagram.”
Have you got a dream project you are currently fantasising about?
“I want to write a book, do a really thorough study about social-media usage linked to class, gender and race issues. Intersectional analysis, basically.”
Where will we find you this summer? When you’re in your creative zone, what is your state of mind?
“I pretty much hang out in east London, but I’m currently collecting places with lawns all over the city, so I can just go and hang out spontaneously, wherever I happen to be. They might be small ones, big parks or medium ones. As for my state of mind – tunnel vision.”
Your art often features nudity, body and skin. How and why is it important to you?
“It started with an interest in feminism and the realisation of how much oppression against women is expressed through something sexual. This includes sexual actions against women, the sexual limitation of women and sexualisation of bodies that look like they are women. Nudity can be an easy way of communicating that you want to talk about sexuality. It is definitely a signifier of sex. But I have also gone in another direction, where nudity is just body. I think it’s dangerous to think that a naked body is always linked to a sexual situation. Nowadays, most of my art doesn’t feature nudity and whenever I investigate body issues, it’s in relation to either digitality, consciousness or the body’s relationship with a person’s internal processes.”
As you tune in to Lao Ra’s music, you feel a certain kind of texture. The 24-year-old has a way of layering things up, she creates her own mix of things, and it comes all the way from her Colombian roots to whatever moves her heart at this very moment. We are already falling hard for her sense of outspokenness and rebelliousness.
You were raised in Colombia’s capital, Bogota, a Catholic city, during the war on drugs. One can feel its influence on your transatlantic music, as it radiates a sense of inner freedom. How did music find its way into your life?
“Bogota wasn’t the safest city, so we used to spend a lot of time indoors and I would spend hours watching MTV. It was so different from our culture, but at the same time it was easy to understand and relate. Just like a Disney movie, it was a fantasy world that I wanted to be part of. Music has the biggest role in my life – it’s my mission.”
You once said, “We all are wild at heart and we can’t help our behaviour because we were made this way.” What did you mean by this?
“For me, being wild means being free and fearless. It is then that creativity can flourish. You can only access that place of deep creativity if you’re not restrained by expectations, fears or rules, etc. I think the idea of being wild means I am free to create, free to say, free to express.”
What have been the highlights of your time in London?
“My highlights so far have been playing KOKO [in Camden, north London] – supporting Rejjie Snow – and XOYO [in east London] – supporting MØ. And now that I have a record deal, what excites me is that I’m making a life out of music and that is just an absolute dream.”
How does the city inspire you? What is your personal “style mantra”?
“This city is such melting pot of styles, cultures, colours, foods, everything. It inspires me to mix things up. It has taught me that things don’t need to match to work together. My personal style mantra would be less is more, but more is also more.”
Future visions – what are you looking forward to? Any new ideas you are longing to explore?
“I’m looking forward to writing my new song, whatever that might be. I haven’t even started yet, but it excites me to know that I’m going to create something from scratch.”
Thanks to her startling talent and an avant-garde aesthetic, Felicia Swartling, 26, has carved out a strong niche for her jewellery line, FESWA. The trajectory her life has been following has taken her from Central Saint Martins, London, to holding showrooms at Paris Fashion Week for SS16 and AW16 and, this year, being one of the eight designers selected by Swedish Fashion Talents for AW16. For her latest collection she used the renowned model and artist Ingmari Lamy as one of her muses, capturing the look and feel in a way that only mystical creatures can. Feel the vortex into the world of FESWA open, where all ruling forces are truly visceral.
When an artist starts exploring their craft properly for the first time, it can often all click into place at once. How did it begin for you?
“It sounds a bit like a love story, but I suppose that’s what it was, still is and always will be. About seven years ago I picked up a torch for the first time and started to melt and play around with some scrap silver and simply fell in love.
It’s hard to describe, but I remember feeling like I had finally found my material. I was studying a foundation course out in the countryside of Sweden, we were introduced to a lot of different art expressions, such as sculpture, woodwork, painting, textile and ceramics, but when I started working in the metal workshop I was hooked.”
“Since then, my obsession, love and hunger for jewellery have grown beyond anything I’ve ever felt before, to the point where jewellery has become more than something you just wear. It has become a part of me, a language through which I can express myself.”
How would you describe the feel of your design process? How do you tap into your creative flow?
“Apart from seeing the finished object in front of you, I find the research stage one of the most rewarding stages. To find new designers, artists or spheres to draw inspiration from is just so satisfying, you know, when you see something and get that tingly feeling in your stomach. Haha, I sound like I’m crazy, but this is how I feel sometimes, when I find something that sort of depicts it all. So I get addicted.”
“Sketches and paint-ups have never really been my thing. I always start testing out new designs or ideas using either wax or air-drying clay, or directly in silver, to get a full visualisation of how the piece will sit and function on the body. Yet, equally as important is how the three-dimensional views relate with and juxtapose each other to emphasise and enhance each piece’s dual quality. Also, using a plinth gives my jewellery a feature to inhabit a space where the pieces can be admired purely as sculpture.”
What is it about London that enchants you? You are originally from Sweden – is there anything special you miss?
“When it comes to London, it’s the energy, pulse and mentality. There are no restrictions to what you can or can’t do and there’s no pressure to try to fit in, which is vital – feeling suppressed by the limitations of rules and how things are supposed to be perceived is a trap and I’m not going for it. But there is hope for Sweden – Ulrika Nilsson, who is behind the store and agency JUS. She has an eye for the importance of individuality and uniqueness, which is reflected through the brands she represents and the store itself. To have received support and belief from her means more than words.”
Tell us about your latest creations and what they symbolise to you?
“It’s about generating alluring and eternal objects, in which timeless and conventional elements are combined with futurism to emphasise, provoke and deconstruct classic jewellery for an ageless clientele. I want to open up, question and provoke conventional preconceptions about what jewellery stands for, to show that jewellery can be and is so much more than just body adornment.”
“There’s a need for a Rei Kawakubo in the world of jewellery. Everything is too safe – it’s either pavé settings, hearts, skulls or butterflies. It’s so regimented. What I see is a space that is lacking something more ground-breaking, thought- provoking and avant-gardist and I’m determined to fill it with a jewellery aesthetic that makes you feel something beyond the mainstream.”
This is the kind of person you want to hang out with anytime, any day and anywhere. Nassia Matsa, 26, has got a certain kind of energy and enthusiasm, which, combined with a clever mind and talent, transforms into charisma. She shows us how to get things done and how the pursuit of happiness – exploring our passions – is nurturing in countless ways.
You are truly an all-star. You work in the commercial department of the science, culture and business title Wired, you have your own publishing company, called THIS_IS_HARDCORE, you are a freelance writer and you’re a drummer in the punk band Ex-Presidents. What is the unifying passion behind it all?
“I’m just naturally really curious, so I satisfy the thirst to educate myself by being involved in different undertakings. I’m a lover of magazines, independent publishing, music and my friends, so what I do is a modus operandi to synthesise all my ‘lovers’ into my daily routine.”
In 2012 you came up with the idea of FAQ FOOD. What was it born out of?
“It started as my final project when I was completing my master’s at London College of Fashion. I enjoy cooking and I don’t really take it seriously. I feel that other magazine titles glorify food, but at the same time they are creating the image that cooking + good food is only for the middle classes, whereas for me, cooking is a life skill. If you know how to cook, you’ll never starve and you’ll always be healthy. I took this and I released my aesthetics on a publication. Raw, not beautified. Funny and sexualised, because food is lust. A salute to the aesthetics of the mid-noughties’ post-hardcore bands’ merchandise, if you like.”
You currently live in Hackney, east London, and FAQ FOOD focuses a lot on the area. What makes it special? Any under-the-radar places we should be keeping an eye on?
“I really love east London, but unfortunately bankers love it as well. It combines interesting people, rough places, raw aesthetics and it feels like something new can always be found here. However, gentrification is too violent – it’s happening too quickly in east London. Independent fashion labels had to leave a building around the corner of where I live, as the rent was increased by 400%. I don’t know how, but some places have survived – such as the mighty Dolphin [pub], where intoxicated dreams go to die every Saturday until 5am.”
You once said, “Think it, don’t dream it. It’s much more effective.” What’s your advice for young creatives?
“Don’t listen to anyone’s advice – do what you want to do.”
Lao Ra wears, from top, Sweatshirt by Stella McCartney, top by Acne Studios, earrings by Stylist Studio; Sweatshirt and trousers by Stella McCartney, top by Acne Studios, shoes by Reebok; Top by Stella McCartney, accessories by Stylist Studio
Felicia wears, from top, Top by Craig Green, T-shirt by Acne Studios, shorts by Rick Owens, rings by FESWA; hoodie Felicia’s own, rings by FESWA; hoodie Felicia’s own, dress by Rick Owens, rings by FESWA