The intriguing Swedish Professor who danced the tango and found the kiss of a flea
Here, at Kukuxumusu, we are sometimes visited by the oddest kind of people. People such as Johan Järlehed, a very tall slim Swede, wearing his Nordic designer glasses and with that docile air that all those who come from the birthplace of Ikea tend to give off. This man studied Spanish Language and Culture at the University of Deusto, in Bilbao. Although he was enraptured with Bilbao he returned home to take up a post as a professor and researcher into minority languages at the University of Gothenburg, in Sweden.
For the past four years he has been investigating the graphic, linguistic and visual representations to be found in both Basque language and Gallego in public spaces. This is part of a project financed by the Swedish National Scientific Council – the Vetenskapsrådet, and which is entitled: “Pride and Profit: Semiotic landscaping in Galicia and the Basque Country”. And this has led him to look into what Kukuxumusu has contributed to the visual expression of the Basque language.
It comes as no surprise to us that Johan has put us into his ‘laboratory’. We could fill pages and pages with the drawings and work that Kukuxumusu has contributed to the promotion of Basque language and its culture and its general impact on the world stage. Indeed, the company was born with a Basque name, as Kukuxumusu literally means ‘the kiss of the flea’ and that was a statement of intentions from the beginning. Just lately, the design of the Basque Tourism Campaign has served to see a redesigning of the ‘ikurriña’, the Basque national flag, into the language of Kukuxumusu.
We asked him what he most misses about the Basque culture when he is back in Gothenburg. “Going out for tapas, going from bar to bar, with a group of friends, having a quick drink at the bar counter and moving on to the next one, all the whole chatting and moving around… that is not a social habit you find in Sweden”, he responds in perfect Spanish.
And what about Basque music? “What I like is to dance, I love dancing, so I like music with ‘body’. And that is something I don’t find in Basque music. For several years I was really into dancing the Argentinian tango, even taking part in marathon sessions all around the world”, he explains as he sips his cup of austere black unsweetened coffee.