What Iceland may lack in sunshine — getting, on average, less than half the amount of rays New Yorkers enjoy annually — it easily compensates for in natural beauty. When it’s light outside, the landscape is an almost otherworldly sight, with blackened crags of lava softened by bright heaps of moss and glaciers melting into never-ending expanses of steel-blue sea. When it’s dark, there’s a symphony of northern lights to behold. With all of that visual stimulation surrounding them it’s no wonder Icelanders are aesthetically gifted, with a fashion sense that rivals Stockholm’s in its cacophany of colors and textures and a community of designers that needn’t look further than their own backyards for inspiration. When Sight Unseen was invited to Reykjavik this past weekend to attend the opening of Iceland’s third annual DesignMarch festival, that was precisely what struck us most: Whether the work we saw directly referenced the country’s landscape and culture or just told a story about its current state of affairs — as with one designer we met who had to shutter her architecture practice after the bank crash and start anew — the show felt like a singularly local celebration. Whereas some other small design fairs invite international names to play many of the starring roles, DesignMarch served as a roadmap to the Icelandic scene, and small as that scene may be in a country with just over 300,000 inhabitants, it certainly had us intrigued. As the kickoff for a new column we’re launching to catalog our impressions of experiences like these, we’ve put together a taste of what we saw at DesignMarch 2011, which you can read about in the slideshow at right.
Clemence Seilles was only four months into a job at Jerszy Seymour's Berlin studio when she started to feel it: that restlessness creatives invariably get when they're unable to fully express themselves. It's not that the job wasn't fulfilling — it was, and more — but working fulltime meant Seilles hadn't yet found a way to devote attention to her own projects. "I had this idea to make a piece that would do the work for me, something that would happen when I wasn't there," she recalls. One morning she hung a few felt-tip pens from the ceiling of her apartment, their tips pressed down against a sheet of Chinese rice paper, and left for Seymour's studio. "When I came back that evening, the work was made."
On a shelf in the home office designer Kiel Mead shares with his girlfriend, the performance artist Sarah Boatright, sits a set of drawers stuffed with backstock of his Forget Me Not rings, little string bows cast in precious metals. Mead’s breakout design when he was still studying furniture at Pratt, the rings were the genesis of the 27-year-old’s fascination with casting objects into wearable reminders — of childhood, of holidays, of lost loves, of an old car he once drove. Boatright, 23, also deals with the preservation of memories in her work, dressing up in goofy wigs to make reenactment videos of family Thanksgivings or furtively recorded interactions between strangers, which go on to enjoy eternal life on YouTube. So if you’d expect the couple’s Brooklyn apartment to be decked out with the kind of overstyled chicness typical of two young creatives, one of whom practically runs the Williamsburg branch of The Future Perfect, you’d be mistaken: Like their creations, the possessions they keep on display are more about storytelling than status.
When Hamburg-based artist and textile designer Katharina Trudzinski decided to take a second residence in Berlin this spring, she found an inexpensive live-work space on the fringes of the up-and-coming Neuköln neighborhood — the city’s equivalent of Bushwick, Brooklyn — and saved two months’ rent by promising the landlord she’d renovate. But it was imagination, not thrift, that inspired her next move: After stripping the wood paneling from the walls and ceilings and tearing down a few ill-conceived door frames, she began painting the detritus and incorporating it into her sculptural installations and high-relief paintings. Made from constellations of scraps, street finds, and everyday junk cloaked in perfectly calibrated hues, her work — some of which becomes inspiration for the pieces in her clothing line — is meant to dialogue with its surroundings. “It’s not my intent that the materials should be cheap, I just like to use things that are around me,” she says. “I like to start with what I’ve got.”