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Five Minutes with Artist Mika Utzon Popov

Five Minutes with Artist Mika Utzon Popov
As R.M.Williams opens the doors to its flagship store in New York, we chat to Danish-born, Australian-trained contemporary artist, Mika Utzon Popov, the creative mind tasked with bringing the Aussie outback to New York.

How did the collaboration with R.M.Williams come about?

They contacted me with the proposition that they wanted to add something more artistic into their environment, and being a flagship store in New York they could push that boundary a little bit further. It’s a new approach for them, so I was quite interested in that. We had a conversation about how I translate landscape into the space, and from the first conversation we figured out that was what we wanted to do. So we started a dialogue about how we could create something that’s both inherently Australian and international.

Why did the project appeal to you?

It’s a brand that everyone has a story about or a connection to; I really wanted to be part of the new direction they’re taking – an Australian icon taking on the international stage. People are so emotionally attached to R.M.Williams. It’s a very honest brand. I can see immediately the heritage and the story. It’s still alive in that boot they created years and years ago. It has a simple concept and an elegant solution. It hasn’t tried to be more than that. And they came to me with free parameters. They’ve been very open and supportive and they’ve let me have free reign with the project.

How did you translate your ideas into the space?

R.M.Williams have a strong heritage with the land and farms in rural Australia, so we really wanted to pull that into the space. We worked around the idea of the base being the landscape; we’ve got some large tiled floor panels that have this earthy, red colour, and then I wanted to have an experience of walking into a space and being immediately immersed in the primary product of what R.M.Williams is: the leather. So when you walk into the space you’re immediately met by this wall that has leather panels. It changes your smell, your sound, it’s a very tactile transition. There’s a steel structure that relates back to the gates of the farm and the shearing sheds. We took all these little ideas from farms and put them all together. We also visited the R.M.Williams factory and that was a major source of inspiration. There was so much interesting stuff in the factory that we wanted to use, so we had to pare it back. 

Can you tell us about the landscape that inspired the main sculptural piece that’s the focal point of the store?

I live in the Sydney area but I really wanted to work with something that was ambiguous and not local to one area. It’s an amalgamation of ideas, memories and experiences. It’s more of an experience of overall landscape.

What was the biggest challenge working on the project?

I really had freedom to create what I wanted, and then that artwork would go into the store and sit independently. The other component was to come up with ideas of how we would translate the landscape into the physical space of the store. The only restriction really how the store has to function every day, so that was an interesting challenge for me: suddenly being in an environment where I had to direct my thoughts on where things had to go. It was challenging but a great learning process for me and the team.


Big Apple bound? Visit the R.M.Williams store at 152 Spring Street, SoHo.



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