We’ve just returned from a week long trip to Iceland. We were invited to exhibit at Reykjavik’s brilliant ‘Design March’ festival, which was the perfect excuse to visit a country we’ve long fantasised about seeing (it’s not a holiday if you’re working, right?).
The exhibition – entitled “Shift” – was curated jointly by Carol Sinclair, Emergents and ‘Design March’, and is the starting point for a cultural exchange project. It features the work of a small number of Scottish & Icelandic designers, with the intention that it be a jumping off point for a future collaboration, culminating in another exhibition a year from now.
Over 4 days of ‘Design March’, the city hosts design exhibitions, talks and events for the industry and general public. There were a huge number of things to see, from small design pop-ups set in lifestyle stores, to major curated shows in Reykjavik’s main cultural centres, live music and talks. The festival had a real grassroots feel, but the standard of work and presentation was extremely high.
We were thrilled to be invited to collaborate with Reykjavik based knitwear designers Doppelgänger. Textile designer Ragna Fróðadóttir and fashion designer Guðrún Lárusdóttir design beautiful, fine-knitted garments, leggings, undergarments and accessories, in classic simple shapes. We sensed a shared sensibility in their work, and were excited at the prospect of some mutual brain-picking and collaboration.
After setting up at the gallery we made our way back into town, walking along the coastline and through streets lined with those iconic, colourful Icelandic houses – like New England or Shaker houses, but rendered in colourful corrugated metal. Reykjavik lacks the history of huge city expansions and reorganisations that we have in Britain, which resulted in entire city blocks presented as a single piece of architecture, in one material. So houses of different sizes, shapes and colours sit happily alongside one another. Everything seems to fit, because nothing fits.
After a long walk in the dry cold air, we felt the need for a jolt of caffeine. Reykjavik Roasters came strongly advised on Instagram, and didn’t disappoint. And just across the road – another tip-off from Instagram – handmade, fresh cinnamon rolls from Braud & Co. It wasn’t our last visit..
We then strolled up Laugavegur, to investigate some of Reykjavik’s design/lifestyle stores – some of which were hosting exhibitions for the festival. We were hoping to discover some less well known Icelandic designers. But while these stores were all beautifully curated, many of the same European brands and products were carried in almost all of them – Ferm, Norman Copenhagen, Hay, Arne Jacobsen etc – and there wasn’t as much of the local design talent on show – so evident from the countless exhibitions around town – as we might have hoped. (We’ll come back to this in a later post).
The Exhibition Preview
Later, we returned back to the gallery in time for the exhibition opening. We met the lovely Ragna and Guðrún of Doppelgänger, and made plans to meet again, the following Monday, for a guided tour around local knitwear factory Varma. We also had a lovely chat with French-Icelandic knit designer Hélène Magnússon – author of several hand-knitting books, and a spinner of Lopi wool.
After the preview of ‘Shift’, Ragna took a group of us out to nearby Grotta, a peninsula on the far north west tip of Reykjavik. She was showing work in an exhibition called FLÓÐ, which included works from members of the Iceland Textile Guild as well as from visiting German and Finnish designers. This exhibition took place in a beautiful half-built, concrete shell of a building, originally intended to be a medical museum. The project ran out of funding during the financial crash, and so has remained in it’s unfinished state – making for a fantastically austere venue, even if we did have to keep our coats and scarves on!
We loved these ceramics by Laura Pehkonen from Finland.
The work in the exhibition was of a very high standard, being designed and/or produced by individuals rather than brands or commercial design companies. I think this was really evident as the work was so refreshingly individual and interesting in terms of concept and technique – rather than having an overly trendy or commercial feel.
After the show and a couple of glasses of wine we all bundled into a taxi and went to a tiny Japanese restaurant for ramen and dumplings. Not bad for a first day in Reykjavik.