Timed as Iceland emerges from long, dark, cold winter nights into spring, Reykjavik has just held DesignMarch 2014. Hundreds of designers from Nordic and Scandinavian countries, Europe and the US participated in the sixth DesignMarch festival organised by the Icelandic Design Centre.
One tenth of the nation, 30,000 Icelanders and visitors from overseas attended. Catherine Sidwell reports on festival highlights from the world’s most northerly capital, soon after the Icelandic government published its first Design Policy.
Using letters from ‘DesignMarch,’ this year’s brand identity for the festival was designed by an experience design graduate and fashion designer and illustrator. The simple graphic flower patterns were inspired by Victorian thaumatropes and vintage electronics.
While Reykjavik is over 16,000 km from Sydney, both harbour cities feature international award winning buildings designed by Danish architects on their waterfronts. Jørn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House and Harpa – Reykjavik’s concert hall and conference centre share chequered pasts but quickly became architectural icons. In 2013, Henning Larsen Architects, Batteríid architects and Studio Olafur Eliasson, received a European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture – the Mies van der Rohe Award.
The Danish-Icelandic artist Eliasson designed Harpa’s steel and glass façade. Light shines in and out of the building through geometric glass panels which reflect the city and changes in light with variations in the weather. At night the glass bricks are lit by different coloured LED lights. Harpa hosted the festival’s signature event: DesignTalks, the Rekjavik Fashion Festival and Made in Furniture: 7 Together exhibition, as well as other events throughout the four day festival.
The theme ‘Dealing with Reality’ was set by Hlín Helga Guðlaugsdóttir, designer, curator and teacher at Konstfack, University College of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm, Sweden. She believes in ‘the innate ability of the designer to detect opportunities, to invent, to create alternatives, to dream, to be visionaries.’
The DesignTalks considered the ability to create and implement strategies for rebuilding cities, changing institutional cultures, inventing systems, creating and envisioning brands, inventing and using new technologies. Speakers included international designers, architects and leaders from creative industries: Calvin Klein, fashion designer; Robert Wong, Google Creative Lab; Kathryn Firth London Legacy Development Corporation; Mikael Schiller, Acne Studios; and Marco Steinberg, former director of strategic design at Helsinki Design Lab.
The festival program included architecture, fashion and textile design, ceramics, furniture and product design, graphic design, interior design, jewellery, experience design and landscape architecture as well as exhibitions, events, openings and talks across the city. While considering contemporary practice and responding to contemporary issues, Nordic designers are clearly inspired by nature, dramatic landscapes and historic craft traditions.
Highlights included The Reykjavik Fashion Festival that showed Icelandic labels: Cintamani, ELLA by El, Farmers Market, JÖR, Magnea, REY, Sigga Maija and Ziska. ELLA by El is a slow fashion brand and one of the ‘Brands to trust.’
As part of Fashioning Sustainability 2014, designers shared their experiences of incorporating sustainability within designs and processes. Discussions included the business potential of Corporate Social Responsibility.
The new Northern Lights shoe collection by Marta Jonsson seemed a perfect accessory for trudging through lava on a cold winter night to look at the northern lights.
Graphic designer and visual artist Elsa Nielsen layers digital photographs to create a new take on her home town, a suburban peninsula Seltjarnarnes, known for its large villas and stunning ocean views.
Guðbjörg Kristín Ingvarsdóttir‘s Lax (Salmon) and Skata (Ray) collections draw inspiration from the texture and form of Icelandic fish. Jewellery is embellished with a textured surface to capture light from different angles.
The harsh and magnificent landscape of Iceland‘s wild interior inspired product designer María Kristín Jónsdóttir’s Staka, accessories for men and women.
Sigrún Einarsdóttir’s narrow escape from the Vestmannaeyjar volcanic eruption 40 years ago is evident in her designs. Sigrún‘s lava-like vases: From Volcano to Vase are symbolic of the stirring volcanoes.
Lars Ranks’ ceramic Stacking Series includes lamps, vases and candleholders. Cast in porcelain cylinder rings are stacked and staggered horizontally.
The interplay of production and consumerism with an emphasis on the product’s traceability features in the travelling exhibition of Nordic contemporary design: ShopShow.
Design studio MÓT premiered Series X, a new addition to their collection of benches for indoor and outdoor use, as part of a project to revive forgotten picnic spots in Reykjavik.
At the Culture House, Visitors designed invitation cards in collaboration with graphic designer Tiny Risselada for ‘It’s personal – and you’re invited.’ Meanwhile Independent Icelandic designers presented their work at a pop up market.
With a relatively young design scene, the country has taken recent steps to strengthen the industry and more people are now seeking higher design education. The Aurora Design Fund a private foundation and the first Design Fund run by the government now support architects and designers. It will be interesting to see which northern design lights emerge from DesignMarch in future.