To kick off our new series, we sat down with multi-talented Portuguese creative Joana Seguro, the founder of electronic music and new technology production company Lumin. Joana spoke to us about her innovative, discipline-straddling work, making a life in Berlin, and the simple act of celebrating the past and the present in your home.
You’re originally from Portugal, but you spent 20 years living in London and have recently settled in Berlin. What made you decide to move to a new place?
J: I lived in London for a very long time and I’m still somehow in between the two places. I moved to Berlin only recently - a few months ago. I had always seen London as my base - a place where I go back after my travels, my home. But it’s recently become very unsustainable as a city. It is still incredibly culturally relevant and a great place to work, but it’s becoming a difficult place to live.
Do you think Berlin has become an alternative to London - a new city where all creatives and artists want to live?
J: Well, London is a hard place to live but you can also do so much there. The possibilities are amazing! But you have to fight for everything. When I was younger, I had the strength to do so - now I’m more like ‘Hey, where’s my quality of life?’. Berlin is unique in that sense. It has always been an edgy and a creative city but it also has a very special connection with nature. There are so many parks and trees. And there is certain quality of life attached to it. It’s very human-oriented and welcoming.
People are always surprised when they come to Berlin. It doesn’t always give the best first impression. What was yours?
J: I came here for the first time in 2001 and I hated the city. I thought it was so ugly [laughs]. You know, I’m from Lisbon - everything is so beautiful there. You walk around and it’s like a film set - limestone pavements, beautiful architecture, colourful tiles. It’s warm and bright. And then I arrived here and I thought ‘This is REALLY grey’. It felt rough. But I’ve realised that over the last few years a whole bunch of my really close friends have moved to Berlin - and they’re really liking it here. I think this city is human. It’s harsh and in-your-face, but it’s very real. I decided I should give it a try.
What’s your background? How did you end up doing what you are involved in right now?
J: Well, I studied biochemistry in Lisbon. And then I got a degree in pharmacology in London. I love science - look at my books! But in my free time, I’ve always been involved with music, film, theatre. They are my real passion. Growing up in Portugal, I didn’t really think you could have a career in culture. When I arrived in London, one of the things I was most excited about was that there were all these opportunities. I joined London University Theatre Company and in six months I produced three plays!
Your projects are always fluid and multi-disciplinary - an intersection of various artistic practices. Where does it all come from?
J: I’ve always felt really comfortable with the idea of being in a laboratory and doing experimentation. That might explain my degree in science! In my head, though, I probably wanted to be more of an alchemist than a chemist [laughs]. Doing those intangible, esoteric projects and working with breakthrough ideas - against the reality of the classical research environment... I like new ideas and innovative work. When I think back at what has changed in my lifetime - the technology and the media are everywhere and everything to us. This has progressed in such short period of time. Being able to witness this is amazing. I find it really fascinating.
It seems like music is a recurring theme in your work...
J: Definitely! I like doing a lot of things - going to exhibitions, the theatre or reading books. But music was really something that changed my life. There wasn’t much of a music scene where I grew up. I started going out in London - I remember my first club experiences and listening to very experimental electronic music. It really opened me up.
You have a pretty impressive collection of records and CDs.
J: When you look around my apartment, I must seem like such a gatherer! All these CDs and records... I have even more in the basement. You can pick any one and it will have a memory attached to it - which shop I got it from or maybe it’s from a friend of mine or an artist I worked with. They are all traces of my life. It’s like this with everything I own. Look at my shelf - it’s filled with weird electronic music records but also books on biology, planets and art [laughs]. This diversity and interdisciplinarity is reflected in all my projects.
I wanted to ask you about your apartment as well. You work a lot with aesthetics and creative ideas. Do you follow design trends?
J: Not really. I’m really intuitive. I’m more like, ‘Okay, I like this thing so I’m gonna buy it’. I was looking for shelves and I saw Tylko and I thought - ‘Well, I need them high, I don’t want them to be IKEA, and I want them to hold all these books and records which are important to me.’ It’s more about finding a solution to whatever problem I have at the time. I will never make a moodboard and plan what to do with my space.
Your professional life is filled with innovative ideas, breakthrough technologies and often radical artists - but your apartment feels very cosy and homey! Is that intentional?
J: My work is very eclectic - but that’s because I, myself, am very eclectic. I’m not at all into that Berlin minimalism, “all-black-and-white” style. I like the sense of home. It’s very important to me. I know creatives and artists who have all those tech things set up in their apartments, but I feel like I want to leave some space in my head. I don’t want it to be either or. There are still real world objects and nature out there. My whole flat is filled with memories - it’s a lifetime of gathering things and putting them together. Some of these pillows were in a flood which destroyed one of my apartments. Or this card - the one with two white puddles - an artist I worked with gave me this for my birthday. It’s really ridiculous. She wrote: ‘Let’s hope we never see a couple of these up a tree. Happy Birthday’. I take it with me everywhere. The common vision of the future is that there will be no past in it. I don’t agree with that. The joy of living in Berlin, Lisbon or London is that the ‘old’ is very present. I believe that the good thing about the future is that there is so much past in it.
You can learn more about Joana’s groundbreaking work by visiting www.lumin.org.