Austurland: Designs from Nowhere explores the possibilities for small-scale design and production in East Iceland, using locally sourced materials and skills. The exhibited work was created following a series of workshops that took place in Autumn 2013 featuring the designers Max Lamb, Þórunn Árnadóttir, Julia Lohmann and Gero Grundmann collaborating with local practitioners in Egilsstaðir, Djúpivogur, Eskifjörður, Vopnafjörður and Norðfjörður. The products are presented for the first time at Spark Design Space during DesignMarch.
The exhibited designs reveal an intriguing mix of narratives, interspersing old and new materials and techniques, celebrating the collaborative nature of the project and demonstrating the range of resources, skills and materials that can be found in the area. Working with the designers were established companies such as the Egersund net-making factory in Eskifjörður, alongside individuals with specialist knowledge of local materials like Vilmundur Þorgrímsson, a geology expert from Djúpivogur. Their unique contributions to the design processes can be seen in the exhibited work, made using fishing net, reindeer antler, seaweed, driftwood and volcano rock.
For each designer, the workshops started with an intensive learning process, to help understand better the potential of the materials and resources found among their new surroundings. For Max this meant exploring the hillsides south of Djúpivogur with Vilmundur, learning the geology of the mountains and considering potential uses for the rock. Þórunn learnt rudimentary net-making skills under the patient tutelage of net maker and teacher Þórhallur Þorvaldsson in Eskifjörður, while Julia and Gero roamed the coastline in Borgarfjörður eystra collecting seaweed and driftwood samples to test for suitability in their designs.
The geographic parameters for the project is the Austurland region, an area of 20,000km2 yet home to only 12.500 people who live in 9 different municipalities. In recent years local initiatives such as MAKE by Þorpið have helped to focus attention on the history of making in the region and create and support a fledgling creative community. Designs from Nowhere was developed as a direct response to the Make It Happen conference of September 2012, organised by MAKE by Þorpið, that brought creative thinkers, designers and cultural leaders together to discuss the potential for future projects in the region.
The work will be commercially available via Spark Design Space, initially in limited numbers, with the intention of demonstrating the potential for small-scale production in East Iceland. The long-term aims of the project are to encourage more companies in the region to collaborate with designers and encouraging investment for future production opportunities.
The designs are presented at Spark Design Space against a display of curated material culture from Austurland. These artefacts and objects, taken from various locations that the collaborators worked and lived in during the workshops, collectively representing the community of East Iceland and the cultural context in which the designers worked. The three dimensional display explores the rural origins of the region but from a modern, unsentimental perspective, linking the past to the present using the objects to narrate an unauthored biography. This method of presentation was inspired by the work of designer Alexander Girard, who collected examples of folk art of the American mid-West in the 1960s to create a series of ‘history walls’.
A thirty minute documentary film by Karna Sigurðardóttir & Sebastian Ziegler will be screened as part of the exhibition. The film explores the designers’ approaches and experiences during the workshops.
Julia Lohmann has recently completed a six-month residency at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, developing her research into the use of seaweed within product and furniture design. During her time in East Iceland she worked with seaweed from Borgarfjörður eystra in collaboration with Markus Nolte and Þorpssmiðjan in Egilsstaðir, one of the MAKE by Þorpið prototyping workshops. Julia will continue her research into local seaweed, with the hope of introducing an entirely new material resource to the region. www.julialohmann.co.uk
Max Lamb is a furniture and product designer who worked in Djúpivogur with local self taught nature scientist Vilmundur Þorgrímsson. Max has worked on residencies in Japan, Australia and China and has been exhibited at museums and galleries in the New York, Milan and London. In collaboration with Hjörleifur Gunnlaugsson and S. Helgason stone yard, Max uses locally found rocks and creates geometrics designs that narrate the geology of the local mountains, built on Vilmundur’s knowledge of the minerals found there. www.maxlamb.org
Þórunn Árnadóttir is a product designer from Reykjavik. She recently returned to live and work in Iceland after graduating from the Royal College of Art in London in 2011. Þórunn worked at the Egersund net-making factory in Eskifjörður, creating new products using the company’s materials, skills and knowledge. By combining the fishing net materials with reindeer antlers found in the hills of East Iceland and worked by Þórhallur Árnason, carpenter in Egilsstaðir, her products bring together East Icelandic land and sea.www.thorunndesign.com
Gero Grundmann is a multidisciplinary designer based in London and Hamburg who works in the fields of design, inclusion, ethics and sustainability. He has led inclusive design workshops in Hong Kong, South Korea and Croatia. Gero collected materials from the woods around Egilsstaðir and beach in Borgarfjörður eystra to create a series of toy train environments using reindeer antlers, driftwood and locally grown wood. The objects are produced in Þorpssmiðjan, prototyping workshop in Egilsstaðir, by carpenters and workshop managers Markus Nolte and Þórhallur Árnason. www.gerogrundmann.com
The project was initiated by Pete Collard and Karna Sigurðardóttir.
Egersund Island, net making factory, Eskifjörður
Þorpssmiðjan, prototype workshop, Egilsstaðir
Jónsver: Sewing workshop, Vopnafjörður
Villi í Hvarfi, nature scientist, Djúpivogur
Hjölli, stone smith, Norðfjörður