Reykjavik – To Reykjavik mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson, the city’s official design week is inextricably linked to the financial crash of 2008. The first edition of the DesignMarch festival took place in the spring of that year, and it has become a prized vitrine to collect examples of the same ingenuity that swiftly lifted the country out of economic depression – in fact, in a visit to the Icelandic capital that same year, yours truly also predicted that design would be the saviour of the crumbling krona.
In its 11th edition, the festival is now concerned with other matters. The nation’s prime minister, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, spoke of an automation report she recently commissioned. If 28 per cent of Icelandic jobs are going to be fulfilled by robots in the next 10 years, what will happen to creative endeavours? Will designers do more, or will more people turn to design?
As it stands today, designers indeed do more. They question how much a designed object can contain the effort it takes to acquire it. They help visualize the physical diameter of awkwardness. They turn volcanic bugs into stackable features. Here are some of the projects that best explain what’s currently happening in the local design scene – and what’s to come.
During this year’s DesignTalks, a full day of presentations embedded inside the festival, Theodóra Alfreðsdóttir shared a heartfelt explanation of the motivation behind one of her first projects: the homesickness she felt while studying in the UK drove her to create a ceramics totem that points a finger at the origin of our food. That experience with casting, in turn, led her to her newest piece, showcased at Geysir Heima: titled Moulds, it questions the accepted lifespan of a commonplace manufacturing element. By introducing small changes in a single mould, breaking uniformity and giving these resulting ‘new’ pieces their deserved protagonism, she pleas for the celebration of the unique in the industrial.
You’ve heard the jokes about sausages and everything that goes inside them. But even that notoriously thrifty mix leaves behind a large amount of waste, mostly in the shape of animal byproducts. Steinarsdóttir decided to use the collagen that results from boiling the hide of the source mammal and using it to concoct a wrapper for the product itself. So, for example, your hot dog sausages would be sold packaged in pork or beef wrapper – just like the pig or cow it came from, wrapped in its own skin. No moral judgment, just protein.
THE NEW SCHOOL
Hafsteinn Júlíusson and his team are tad concerned about the quality of the school chairs children have access to. To honour the country’s tradition, he presented a pared-down steel version of the seat that previous generations of Icelanders took lessons in. That way, The New School can go from the classroom to the home and the office.
Hanna Dís Whitehead and Raili Keiv
Product designer Hanna Dís Whitehead sees a circle and thinks of ways to divide it to produce new objects. Ceramic designer Raili Keiv likes taking circular forces, from wooden dishes to plastic cups, and mixing them with porcelain to come up with unpredictable new objects. Talk about bringing things full circle.
Birta Rós Brynjólfsdóttir and Hrefna Sigurðardóttir, the designers behind Flétta, focused on the raw emotions behind the cold metal and marble that usually makes up a trophy. Why is it that one simple object tells so little and hides so much? Can a new configuration of its parts reveal this incongruence? That’s why the duo decided to deconstruct and envision anew a series of pieces – which ended up being use as chalices and fountains and the like. ‘Trophies are a part of big moments in people's lives, achievements, and memories,’ they explained. ‘They tell a story of countless hours and strenuous exercises. They are made for a moment, when they are lifted up in triumph, and lose their value when taken out of context.’
Helga Lára Halldórsdóttir
Can fashion provide a safe space for introverts and those who are self-aware about their perceived awkwardness? Designer Helga Lára Halldórsdóttir took the ‘safe space’ part literally and created a series of wearable sculptures based on her research on what she calls ‘everyday embarrassments.’ The length of separation between the wearer and the others, achieved through the use of long sticks, aims to foster a visual and spatial awareness of how embarrassed the user is. In other words: Don’t you dare talk to her if she’s wearing two metres worth of awkward aura around her body.
Ceramic artist Guðbjörg Káradóttir had been working on restaurant ware for names such as Agern, Dill and Grillið. This being Iceland, though, she started experimenting with volcanic ash, mixing it with porcelain and black stone clay. That led to her new brand, ker. The standout came from an accident during her experiments: just like a volcano, the top opening in this piece is unpredictable. When it toppled down in the kiln instead of scaling upwards like she expected, she realized she had the makings of a set of infinitely stackable vases.
Nina Fradet and Anna Thorunn
French designer Nina Fradet and her Icelandic counterpart in this project, Anna Thorunn, wondered what would come out of combining the artisanal know-how of the Gallic industry and the Nordic penchant for exposed, raw materials. The result was Nude, a tableware collection that praises the virtue of irregularity. The three items are made from leftover construction stone, to avoid material waste, and olive tree veneer. The first component can keep warm after coming out of the oven, or cold after being left a few minutes in the fridge; the second takes the exact shape of the stone just by moulding it with the user’s hands. ‘We are playing with the limits of rupture, as this brings a fragile beauty to people’s tables,’ they explained.
Miðgarður Building Association
In Iceland, rúnturrin is the practice of aimlessly driving around, either trying to find a spot to shop or eat, as a way to relax or purely out of boredom. Car culture in this steep, snowy, windy and sparsely populated nation runs deep. That makes the Miðgarður Apartments such an odd project in this context: the architects behind it are advocating for a pilot project in central Reykjavik with a new street typology and 35 and 60-sq-m flats devoid of regular garages, meant to increase pedestrian and bike traffic.
Back in 2014, in his native Strasbourg, Raphaël Costes was figuring out the best way to mould marble-type concrete and Corian. He took a break to go on holiday to Iceland and was greeted with the eruption of the Bárðarbunga volcano. ‘If only I could use the volcano as a foundry to melt stone,’ he jokingly thought. But that turned into his reason for staying in the country: for five years, he’s tried to find ways to pour the magma from a volcano directly into a mould, in order to shape an object.
In Form is his first series of experiments with molten basalt, where he’s failing upwards towards his expected Bárðarbunga-shaped object. Why? ‘Because the abundance of 99 per cent renewable energy in Iceland enables an otherwise energy-intensive process of remelting rock to produce objects,’ Costes explained. ‘So the potential to explore the pure rock material through this green energy expands on the current state of handcraft in Iceland by designing with local material, rather than working with imported material.’