Edda Centre for Icelandic Studies Wins Design Award

Edda Centre for Icelandic Studies

The University of Iceland’s new Centre for Icelandic Studies, called Edda, has won the 2023 Icelandic Design Award in the “Place” category. The jury called the building “characteristic and impressive” and praised the attention to detail in its design. Edda will soon house an exhibition of Iceland’s most valuable manuscripts that will be open to all.

“Edda, the new Centre for Icelandic Studies, is a characteristic and impressive building,” the jury statement reads. “The project was carried out with professionalism, artistry, and attention to every detail inside and out. The oval shape and unique texture of the exterior suggest the value of its contents. The building stands in a shallow, reflective pool and the outside is clad with a copper shell with stylized copies of text from manuscripts, which both decorate the walls and spark curiosity about what lives within. Edda is a bright and open building where beautiful courtyards give the interior spaces air and light.”

Open Books: The New Centre for Icelandic Studies

Edda was designed by Hornsteinar Architects. It was built to house The Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies, several University of Iceland departments concerning Icelandic language and literature, and an exhibition of the Árni Magnússon Institute’s manuscript collection that will be open to all.

 

Four Added to List for Honorary Artists’ Stipend

Alþingi Icelandic parliament

Four artists are to be added to the list of honorary artists who received a state stipend to support their work. The decision comes from the Cultural Committee of Parliament, and the four new artists are replacing four who have passed on either this year or last.

The new recipients of the artist stipend will be: Hildur Hákonardóttir, Kristín Þorkelsdóttir, Manfreð Vilhjálmsson, and Þórhildur Þorleifsdóttir.

The list of honorary artists is notable this year for including graphic designers and architects. Historically, the list has generally been reserved for the traditional fine arts, including visual art, music, and theatre.

Kristín Þorkelsdóttir is noteworthy as the graphic designer behind some Icelandic banknotes and the Icelandic passport.

The new honorary artists will be joining the ranks of notable Icelandic creatives such as Erró, Bubbi Morthens, and Guðrún Ásmundsdóttir, among others. In total, the list includes some 25 notable Icelandic artists who have contributed in a significant way to Icelandic culture.

The new additions to the honorary artists’ stipend are in line with a a budget proposal which was passed yesterday.

 

Imbuing Matter with Spirit

dieter roth

In 1957, a young, Swiss graphic-designer-turned-artist, Dieter Roth (1930-1998), reached Icelandic shores. Like many men before and since he was following an Icelandic woman. He had met and fallen in love with her in Denmark a year earlier. Roth would become a household name in Iceland and a celebrated figure in 20th-century modernist art and […]

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Grounded

hulda sveinsdóttir iceland sustainability

Iceland’s nature is truly magnificent. Grand mountain ranges flanking bottomless fjords. Endless stretches of tundra and vast glaciers. Formidable rivers and thundering waterfalls. But what is there to see when you take your focus off the horizon and bring it closer: to the soil beneath your feet? What if you could zoom in even further, see the microorganisms that are invisible to the naked eye but actually make up the vast majority of the genetic diversity on the planet and are the basis of its ecosystems? 

We have plenty of information on Iceland’s soil and microbial ecosystems. But theoretical knowledge is quite a different beast from practical knowledge. You can put soil under a microscope, dissect its chemical components, and assess which tiny critters reside in it. Or you could take a more creative approach and experiment – just to see what happens. Through trial and error, Iceland’s creative people are digging in the dirt – literally – and making illuminating discoveries along the way.

EARTH TONES

“I started wondering if I could dye fabrics in these colours
and did a few experiments, but it wasn’t clicking. I’m not
a textile artist, I’m a ceramic artist.”

A far cry from mass-produced soil, forming clay by hand is an intimate one, with the material coming to life from the touch of an artist’s fingers. That sort of connection is hard to come by with Iceland’s soil: most of the ingredients Icelandic ceramic artists work with are imported. While there’s clay all around the country, making it into a piece of pottery is a challenge. Ceramic artist Hulda Katarína Sveinsdóttir grew up in Hveragerði, a town named for the geologically active ground. “I felt an affinity for the hot spring clay, but people really don’t like it, and I get that, because it’s hard to work with.” 

A few years ago, Hulda began researching what she could make from Icelandic clay. “The results were brittle and would often explode in the oven.” Working with natural clay means that you don’t always know what you’re getting into. Clay is a fine-grained, natural soil containing clay minerals, but its chemical composition differs vastly. The most obvious way you can tell is its range of colours. “When I was studying, we looked into Icelandic clay. You’ll see a field of bright red clay streaked with veins of yellow or silver,” Hulda tells me. Once she had explored all the qualities (and weaknesses) of Iceland’s clay, she was most struck by the colours. “I kept working on it, and I noticed that cloth that touched the clay would stain, and the colour wouldn’t easily wash out.” 

One of the difficulties of working with Icelandic clay is that it shrinks drastically in the kiln. It’s not just water that evaporates but all sorts of natural chemicals, such as sulphur. “When firing the clay, it’s important to be wary of the fumes, as a lot of sulphur dioxide gets released.” Sulphur is a natural colour fastener, which inspired Hulda to start thinking about the clay colours in a new way. “I started wondering if I could dye fabrics in these colours and did a few experiments, but it wasn’t clicking. I’m a ceramic artist, not a textile artist. But that’s the process that led me to make crayons out of the clay.” In her natural clay crayons, Hulda captures the surprisingly varied colourscape of Iceland, using finely ground clay from geothermal sites and the region surrounding her hometown of Hveragerði. 

During the process, several things surprised her. The biggest one was the immense variation between different types of clay, even those that were sourced only a few kilometres from each other. Some required only a bare minimum of the soy wax she uses as a binder, while others turned brittle without plenty of it. “I thought I could figure out the ratio and use the same recipe for all of the assorted colours. That was impossible. Each clay had its very own personality.” While the crayons present a beautiful way to connect with the colours of Iceland, to Hulda, this is one step of the way to familiarising herself with Iceland’s clay.

GREAT WASTE

If this is so easy and so good for the planet and so effective, why hasn’t anyone done this on a large scale?

Björk Brynjarsdóttir and Julia Miriam Brenner love dirt so much that they want to make more of it. Much more, in fact. And they’ve developed an ingenious way to do it: by making trash into treasure. 

In the modern world, technological improvements have often served to move us further away from natural processes. One of the most pertinent issues this has created is the way we manage waste: burning it or burying it in a landfill isn’t sustainable, and all over the world, people are working hard to solve the problem of what to do with what we throw away. Björk and Júlía are working on one such solution through their composting company Jarðgerðarfélagið. Their goal is to take a complicated issue – managing organic household waste – and develop a solution applicable on a large scale without sacrificing the hygiene and comfort we’ve come to expect. The key, if you ask the pair, is microorganisms. 

Have you ever made compost? You need time, oxygen, and heat, and you even need to stir it. That process brings to mind two unpleasant words: trash juice. When Björk was studying in Denmark, she heard about another composting method:  fermentation. “The first thing that sparked my interest was what this would mean for the environment,” Björk tells me. “But now I just find  everything about it fascinating.” Her partner in crime, Julia, is a soil scientist. They met while taking a class on home composting. “The thing is, individuals can compost independently, and many are, but they shouldn’t have to. Putting the responsibility on the individual is not a sustainable solution.” She explains that in Iceland, the responsibility of waste management is entirely in the hands of municipal authorities. If they want to do better, they can – and they should! 

Bokashi composting is a way of taking organic waste and transforming it into nutritious fertiliser. Composting is not the right word for it, as the bokashi method relies on fermentation, an anaerobic (oxygen-free) process, and traditional composting requires oxygen. Developed in Japan in the eighties, all you need to do it at home is a sealed bucket and some microorganism-infused bran, and in two weeks, your vegetable scraps and banana peels become usable fertiliser. Unlike traditional composting methods, there’s no stirring needed, and since the bucket is fully sealed, it doesn’t emit any unwanted smells. The microorganisms kill harmful bacteria and promote the growth of good ones, much like when making kimchi or sauerkraut. Keeping organic waste out of landfills also stops it from producing more greenhouse gases. 

It all sounds a little too good to be true. “Right?” says Björk. “At every step in this process, we’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop. Like, if this is so easy and so good for the planet and so effective, why hasn’t anyone done this on a large scale?” Björk and Julia are now working with Rangárvallasýsla, a region in south Iceland, to scale up their bokashi production. “We’ve been taking this one step at a time, not making grand plans until we know for sure that this works. But so far, it’s been working pretty spectacularly. After our first pilot project, we did some user interviews, and people were thrilled with it. And the process creates a nitrate-rich soil, which is perfect for Iceland, as our volcanic soil naturally lacks nitrate.” When doing their due diligence, Julia and Björk were also pleasantly surprised with the hygienic properties of their microorganisms. “We absolutely flooded some waste with E. coli and salmonella to test them. After leaving it with the microbes for a couple of weeks, the harmful bacteria had been completely annihilated.”

Microbe Brewery

iceland sustainability

Iceland’s environment doesn’t only offer materials for artmaking: its microorganisms can also make food. While modern science has deepened our understanding of microorganisms such as yeast, you don’t need to know what’s working or how to make some magic happen. People have been doing it for millennia; baking bread, fermenting vegetables for storage and easier consumption – and making beer. 

When Sveinn Steinar Benediktsson and Kjartan Óli Guðmundsson met, they were both studying design at the Iceland University of the Arts. They shared a massive interest in microorganisms, and over a beer or two, Grugg&Makk was born. Using old traditions peppered with modern science, they set out to figure out what Iceland tasted like. 

To make beer, you only need four ingredients: water, grain, hops, and yeast. The yeast is where things get complicated. These days, you can go to the grocery store and buy commercially produced yeast that comes to life in your bread or beer, but you don’t actually have to go that far; there’s yeast in the soil and air all around us. The Grugg&Makk boys simply leave out a liquid containing the optimal conditions for the kinds of microbes they want to attract, and the milkshake brings all the boys to the yard. Only in this case, the milkshake is an unfermented beer base, and the yard is a brewery. 

“Grugg&Makk is all about collecting bacteria in certain places in Iceland,” Sveinn tells me. “We’re connecting the microbial ecosystems of specific locations with a flavour experience. So, you can taste a place.” A glass of wild ale brewed with yeast collected in a lava field is a cloudy golden colour and tastes fresh, with a hint of currants, lactic acid, and warm spices. “Seeing through a microscope doesn’t tell you much about what’s going on, but tasting a beer made with yeast from Svörtuloft versus one made with yeast from Djúpalón – the vast difference between them gives you a deeper sense of the scale. Everyone assumes we add different flavours to the beers, but it’s just what happens. It’s amazing how much difference different microbes can make. And taste is one form of perception.” 

Their methods are based on culinary traditions present in most cultures throughout history, even Iceland. Kjartan explains: “To make skyr, people would use some skyr from the previous batch as a starter, keeping their culture alive. But if every last scrap of skyr got eaten, you had to get some new microbes. Waiting until summer, you would put out a few bowls of skyr base in various places around the farm and then pick the best-tasting one as the base for your future skyr.” 

“And people would have favourite skyr based on which farm it came from!” Sveinn chimes in. “Although the beers from farmland regions were some of the most challenging ones we made – flavourwise. Except for maybe the Ingjaldstún one?” he looks questioningly at Kjartan. “Well, that one was also close to some swampland. I liked it; it tasted a little bit Belgian.” 

The difference between these guys and rural Icelanders in centuries gone by is that modern science has cast a light on what’s happening behind the scenes.  As they get lost in talk about the differences between saccharomyces and brettanomyces and what makes beer taste “farmy” – the mad scientist vibe borders on uncanny. 

They agree that the most accessible beer they made happens to come from lava fields by the sea. Their experiments included visiting the locations in different seasons (more mushroom spores in the air in the fall), and they wondered if the temperature in the sun-soaked black lava affected the outcome. While collecting wild microbes is a game of chance, they also exert a considerable level of control. “Back in the day, beer was sourer, like this one, because lactic bacteria would also be present. It keeps bad bacteria at bay. Most bacteria ideal for human consumption can’t survive in low-acid conditions. It helps to make the product safe for consumption. So, we use old traditions with modern knowledge of microorganisms. We create optimal conditions for the yeasts and microbes we want to collect in our collecting liquid. The base is unfermented beer, with a little alcohol to keep mould at bay. I add a little yeast nutrient to it and a tiny amount of hops, so I don’t get too much lactic acid.” 

Letting nature do its thing through a controlled process based on old traditions and modern science – along with a whole lot of trial and error. 

That’s how you make magic.

Bónus Lengthens Opening Hours, Gives Mascot Controversial Makeover

As of Friday, Bónus will have longer opening hours. Vísir reports that the extension was announced to customers at the same time that the discount grocery chain unveiled that its mascot, the iconic Bónus pig—an off-kilter, droopy-eyed swine that appeared to be recovering from a hard night out—had undergone a makeover. But while the later shopping hours will undoubtedly be welcomed, not all locals are equally enthused about the popular porker’s facelift.

Bónus CEO Guðmundur Marteinsson says the chain extended its hours in response to calls from consumers. “This is the complaint we receive most often,” he explained. “But we’re cost-conservative and opening hours are part of the cost. But by keeping the opening hours within reasonable limits—we’re not extending them by much—we believe we can implement this without increasing the cost too much. Prices won’t change because of this adjustment.”

Previously, Bónus closed at 6:30 pm. From now on, however, seven Bónus locations will be open until 8:00 pm every day: in the capital area, Smáratorg, Skeifan, Spöngin, Fiskislóð, and Mosfellsbær, as well as Helluhraun in Hafnarfjörður and Langholt in Akureyri. The remaining locations will be open until 7:00 pm. In addition, Bónus will open an hour earlier on Sundays, or 10:00 am.

‘He was always a bit cockeyed’

The original Bónus mascot, via Facebook

Remarking on the controversial mascot transformation, Guðmundur said, “We’ve just streamlined him a little—it isn’t that big a change. We took out one or two lines that it’s always looked like we forgot to erase when he was initially designed,” he continued, pointing to a crinkle on the Bónus pig’s nose and an extra line on his back.

More dramatic, however, is the adjustment of the pig’s left eye. “He was always a bit cockeyed,” Guðmundur said. “But as I see it, this is part of our evolution.”

The brand’s font has also been adjusted, moving from a blocky serif font to a cleaner sans serif.

‘Long live the Bónus pig!’

Change does not always come easy, though, and some locals took to social media to mourn the mascot.

“What kind of sick joke is this?” wrote Hrafn Jónsson on Facebook. “You take one of the most iconic pigs of all time and mess with it? […] What kind of personality-less impostor is this?”

“Why can’t *anything* be left alone in this country?” tweeted @siggiodds. “What is the point/goal? Take the nuance, the history, and the humor away so you’re left with just an empty, generic shell?”

Rex Beckett

The transformation has also already inspired several memes. “Long live the Bónus pig!” proclaimed Rex Beckett on Facebook, screen-capping the messages she sent directly to the company. “I just wanted to say that I am extremely sad about the decision to change the Bónus Piggy’s look,” she wrote. “He was a delightful little weirdo with such a fun personality and his wonky eye made everyone happy. […] Please let us hang onto our old friend.”

What can you tell me about this Icelandic sweater seen on Iceland Review’s website?

This particular sweater belongs to Iceland Review’s German correspondent. Knitted 30 years ago and given to them when they moved to Iceland, it is the product of a knitting kit purchased in Germany. The pattern (18-07) is designed by Gréta Björk Jóhannesdóttir and is still available on Lopi design’s website.

This kind of woollen sweater is called a lopapeysa and is made from unspun wool of Icelandic sheep, called lopi. The Icelandic lopapeysa is knit in the round, so it doesn’t have any seams, and it has a circular patterned border around the shoulders. The yoke patterns range from simple geometric shapes to elaborate patterns such as the one pictured above but patterns around the waist and wrists are optional.

There are several theories about the origin of the patterns. One points to Auður Laxness, the wife of Iceland’s Nobel Laureate in Literature, Halldór Laxness, who knitted lopapeysur inspired by Inca culture. While Auður knitted her fair share of the first lopapeysur created in the 20th century, she wasn’t the only designer.

Another theory points to Greenlandic designs and that Norwegians made knitting patterns based on the Greenlandic nuilarmiut, traditional formal wear with a beaded collar that covers the shoulders and bust, and has brightly patterned geometric designs. These patterns made their way to Iceland via Norway. However, Turkish and Swedish textile designs have also been mentioned as sources and the sweaters are also inspired by knits from the Shetland Islands and the Faroe Islands. The consensus now is that the lopapeysa has a lot of foreign influences and that one originator cannot be pinpointed.

Even though the origin of the yoke pattern cannot be traced, Icelandic influences on what the yoke is made of are clearer. Icelandic flowers, leaves, snowflakes, horses, and traditional handicraft patterns are often used, and many of the early designs are inspired by Icelandic folklore.

Read more on Icelandic wool (subscription required):

Homespun

The Colourful Oddissey of Icelandic Wool Dyeing

Men of the Cloth

Ýrúrarí Takes Tongue-in-Cheek Approach to Face Masks

Textile artist Ýr Jóhannsdóttir, who designs under the name Ýrúrarí, is making headlines for her playful and unorthodox face masks in the time of COVID-19. The artist and her “trippy” 3D knitwear masks were recently featured in Vogue.

Twenty-seven-year-old Ýr, who learned how to knit as a child in school, began to pursue her craft in earnest at Scotland’s Glasgow School of Art. She’s built a strong following on Instagram, largely through repurposing second-hand sweaters that she then knits eye-catching—or perhaps better said, mouth-watering—decorations onto.

Ýrúrarí, Facebook

See Also: Breaking the Pattern: Tongues are wagging over Ýr Jóhannsdóttir’s mouthy sweaters

Ýr favours tongues and mouths in her sweater décor, so it seems only natural that she’d leap to lippy, tongue-dangling knit masks. “…[I] love knitting with my hands,” she told Vogue, “and I always go back to strange faces.” She gravitates to tongues and teeth she said, “Maybe because they are kind of rude, sticky, and strange.”

There is no government requirement to wear masks in Iceland as a COVID-19 precaution, and Ýr emphasizes that her creations are strictly art pieces, and “not made for safety.” It took her two days to make her first mask, noted Vogue—or rather, a “mouth plug” featuring a long, stuck-out tongue that could be used as a “cheeky add-on to a regular mask.”

Ýrúrarí, Facebook

Ýr’s approach is certainly tongue-in-cheek: “Idea for a knitted add on to your face masks,” she wrote in her first mask-related Facebook post. “[M]ight also encourage people to stay away from you…”

Men of the Cloth

Steps above the crowded Laugavegur street, the workshop of Kormákur and Skjöldur Men’s Boutique provides a cushy haven: hefty rolls of fabric rise in piles, and fine suit jackets in various stages of completion line the walls. Sounds are dampened, but there’s plenty to see – and touch. In the middle of the room, tailors Birna Sigurjónsdóttir and Rakel Ýr Leifsdóttir share a high table. They’re making a bespoke suit for artist Ragnar Kjartansson.

Herrafataverzlun Kormáks og Skjaldar, as it is known in Icelandic, has only been dressing men in Iceland since 1996, but their timeless selection of menswear suggests a much longer tradition. Pick up any one item – a wool suit, a Barbour jacket, or a plaid accessory (there is no shortage of plaid on offer) – and the first adjective that comes to mind is “classic.” Yet the suit lying on the table in this workshop is the first fruit of a remarkably innovative project – a quest to make high-quality tweed out of Icelandic wool.

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A Delicate Craft

Ragna Sara Jónsdóttir - Fólk - íslensk framleiðsla

Iceland’s rich creative culture demonstrates that no place is too small or remote to start up a business, manage a company, or to make a difference from. But given the country’s high wages, production, and shipping costs, outsourcing abroad is frequently the only way to ensure a company’s profitable growth.

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Björk’s Swan Dress Part of Met Museum’s Camp Exhibition

The famous “swan dress” that Björk wore to the 2001 Academy Awards is included in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Camp: Notes on Fashion” exhibition, which will open on Thursday, following the New York institution’s annual Met Gala, often referred to as “the Oscars of Fashion.” RÚV reports that the famous frock will be exhibited alongside such iconic garments as the oyster dress that rapper Cardi B wore to the Grammy’s this year, Burberry’s rainbow cloak, and Balenciaga’s platform take on the Crocs clog, among others.

Björk wore the swan dress to the 2001 Academy Awards. That year, her song “I’ve Seen It All” from Lars von Trier’s film “Dancer in the Dark” was nominated for Best Original Song. Björk, who starred in the film, co-wrote the song with Icelandic author Sjón and recorded it with Radiohead singer Thom Yorke.

The swan dress was created by Macedonian fashion designer Marjan Pejoski. At the time, it was widely mocked. Journalist Jay Carr of The Boston Globe memorably remarked, for instance, that the “wraparound swan frock…made her look like a refugee from the more dog-eared precincts of provincial ballet.” It’s stood the test of time, however: Valentino debuted its own version of the dress as part of its Spring 2014 couture collection.

The theme of this year’s Met Gala and the related exhibit takes its inspiration from Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay “Notes on ‘Camp.” The exhibition will be open to the public from May 9 to September 8 in New York City.