In 2014 IKEA published the first of their “Life at Home Reports.” The research presents collected information about morning household rituals across eight global cities. There were roughly 1,000 participants for each city, in total 8,292 people aged 18-60. Each chapter of the report focuses on a single city, and includes a series of candid looking photographs of a family during their morning routine. This adds a personal touch to the infographics. IKEA combines photography and big data; the respective 19th and 21st century technologies associated with “truth,” to construct an ideal, global home life. The “Life at Home Reports” tell a story and kindle desire, as advertising often does, without ever mentioning products or prices.

My series Home Reports is a series of digitally manipulated photographs appropriated from these reports. In the tradition of “IKEA hacking” I began to modify and repurpose the published photographs. First I looked for underlying geometries. I selected shapes to fill with solid blocks of sampled color or pattern, interrupting the photographic space and highlighting poignant gestures from the image. This results in an abstract collage combining solid color forms with areas of photographic detail. While each image still reads as a household interior, they play with expectations of depth and perspective. The series includes examples from each of the eight cities and the range of family units represented, including same-sex and interracial couples, intergenerational families, single parents, and unwed cohabitants. There are also noteworthy absences. All eight cities are densely populated urban centers. Mumbai is the sole representative from the global south. By manipulating these images, I attempt to highlight the ways advertising, and research, construct an ideal domesticity.


Michael Borowski uses photography, installation, and performance to explore how the design of urban and domestic spaces reflect and reinforce societal values. Informed by interdisciplinary research from sociology, geography, and urban planning, his creative projects question the seemingly familiar spaces and routines that make up daily life in the city. He has exhibited in galleries and non-traditional venues in the US, Canada, and Europe, and has been included in the public art and performance festivals Art in Odd Places in 2011, and FIGMENT in 2013. Michael Borowski received his M.F.A. from the University of Michigan in 2011 and is currently a visiting faculty of photography at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire. | CV


Inspiration (Backstory)

The following questions are intended to provide insight into the artist's process, how they got started and what inspires them.

What was the first thing that you made? Do you remember why you made it? What materials did you use and why?
It was probably a drawing of some kind. My parents encouraged me to draw. I remember being given a stack of paper and a pen or pencil and I would sit and invent characters and worlds for hours. I was a big doodler in school.

How and when did you know you were an artist?
I don’t think there was a single moment. Making artwork is something I’ve always enjoyed and I never gave up on it. I will say it took me a long time to feel comfortable telling other people that I am an artist. I could tell people whatever job I had at the time, but I felt like making art wasn’t as legitimate. I guess it still feels strange sometimes, but I am more likely to tell people that I am an artist now.

What was the event/person that got you started creating your art? Does that event/person continue to influence the work that you do?
I have had a lot of support over the years. My parents always encouraged my creativity. When I was a freshman in high school I made a large abstract ink painting. My art teacher suggested I submit it to a student art show and it won a prize. My work looks completely different now, but those early influences helped me stay open-minded about working across different media, and be confident about exhibiting my work.

Who or what inspires you and why?  
I am inspired by the places I live and the connections I see between culture and cities. I am inspired by the formal elements of architecture, construction, maps, and topography. But I tend to gravitate towards the emotional or psychological aspects of places, because they are more complicated and intangible. I think that is why the concept of home has had such a personal appeal. It is both physical and emotional.

Are there any programs or opportunities to learn that you wish you had had as a young artist? 
I grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It’s a big city with a lot of creative people in a fairly poor state. As a young artist I was able to see major museum shows and pop-up galleries in abandoned buildings. There were lots of art cars, quirky public sculptures, murals, and street art. I think that instilled in me an open-mindedness and DIY philosophy towards an art community. But I also saw a lot of great projects and spaces fizzle out in a few years. One thing I wish there were more of when I was growing up is a mutual support system between artists, the public, and the city. And I see it happening more now, but I would still like to see more in places that aren’t considered art capitals.

What would you say to a young person to encourage their study and practice of art?
Find joy in what you do. It is hard work to sustain an art practice. There is a lot of uncertainty and plenty of reasons to give it up as you go on in life. It could be financial concerns, or a creative block, or lack of support. I don’t believe in a right or wrong way of being an artist, as long as you can push yourself to keep making.


Artistic Practice

The following questions are intended to provide insight into the artist's process, how they got started and what inspires them.

Do you like people to see your work/comment on it while it is still in process?
I’m not used to it, so I would say no. I typically work alone, and I have a lot of uncertainty when I start new work. I like for a project to have a solid direction and some self-defined goals before sharing it with anyone. At a certain point it is helpful to get feedback from another artist or someone with insight into the concept the project is dealing with.

Do you have a daily artistic ritual or routine?
It is pretty unusual for me to get into the studio every day, but I try to have “studio days” a few times a week. My routine is usually wake up and read for a few hours, then go to my office or studio to work for another couple hours. I will get some lunch when I need a break and then get back to work until 4 or 5, and then I will go to the gym or take a bike ride or some kind of exercise. I would like that to be a more consistent practice, but being in the studio doesn’t always inspire me (see question 3.)

What is the most unusual aspect of your creative process?
I don’t know if this is all that unusual, but my process is not attached to any particular medium or tool. So I never know where the inspiration for a new project will come from. When I am trying to come up with a new idea, being in my studio is rarely helpful. I have figured out that I need to go for a walk or have a conversation with someone. I read a lot, both fiction and non-fiction, and that sometimes gives me ideas.

Is this your first career and only career? 
I have always had a day job along with making artwork, but that career has changed over the years.

If not, what jobs have you done other than being an artist and how has that influenced your artistic practice?
I was an assistant to an interior designer. I found working in a studio environment satisfying, but then I would not feel like working on my own artwork when I got home. Then I taught English as a foreign language, which led me to be more interested in education. For the past five years I have done various teaching positions in higher education, and this fall will join the School of Visual Art at Virginia Tech as an Assistant Professor of Art. Although sometimes this means I don’t get to produce as much, I appreciate the community of students and fellow faculty, and it provides a nice balance of support for my artwork and putting time into helping others pursue creative lives and careers.

Why create art?
For me art making is a way to think more deeply about a particular question. My projects generally begin with something I have seen or heard about that sparks my curiosity, or that I can not find a quick and easy answer to. It is a particular way of researching, with its own materials and processes, but I think the goal is similar: to further understand our world and our relationships to it.

What role does the artist have in society? Why do you think art is important?
Artists are cultural producers, and I like keeping that vague. Artists should challenge expectations, and if we have a narrow definition of what art is or looks like it is not able to grow. So I keep an open mind about it. But the artwork that I find most appealing helps me relate to situations in the world in ways that I had not previously considered. I once read something about how reading fiction can help a person be more empathetic. I like to believe all art does this. It makes us more open, nuanced, and hopefully understanding.

What do you think is the importance of supporting the arts?
I feel it is similar to the importance of supporting local and small businesses. There are large-scale cultural producers in media just like corporations, and they can produce some excellent artwork. But that should not limit the opportunities of people making art independently. It is important to seek that work out, and support it financially if it is something we admire.


Current Work

The following questions are intended to create insight about the artist’s current work and what they intend their audience to understand. 

What research led you to your current body of work?
I had been doing research on home and domestic space for a few years, and particularly how that relates to moving. While doing that research I had the realization that Ikea is today's migrant furniture. It is cheap, collapsible, and has a kind of ambiguously global design. In 2014 Ikea began publishing their own research on domestic life called the "Life at Home Reports." These documents provided both material and inspiration for this current body of work.

What has caused you to gravitate toward the materials and processes you are currently using?
I wanted to appropriate material directly from the Ikea reports. While reading the documents I came across a link to download high-resolution images used in the reports. This seemed like a sign that I should use the photographs in some way. The abstraction process was new for me. I decided to use that to relate the photographic image to the data, but in an indirect way. My goal was to have the viewer take a second to rethink about the purpose of these photographs.

Which comes first, the medium or the idea?
For me it's almost always the idea.

What role does process have in your work? 
Process is tricky for me. I generally work from a concept first and then figure out the media and process that I want to use afterwards. That means I am often working with different processes, sometimes ones that I am working with for the first time. The studio environment changes for me depending on the project I am working on.

How do you know when a piece is complete?
I often have a vague image in mind when I start a project. There are always surprises, and that's something I love about art making. When the work comes into existence it challenges you and the initial idea that brought you to making it. At a certain point I reach a balance between my initial expectations and the surprises that the work brings on its own. That balance feels like finish to me.

What is the one idea/thought you hope people will have/take away with them after viewing your work?
To think about the relationship of the photographic image and other forms of communication, such as data. How and why one is used versus another.