Icelandic politicians and business figures have been making headlines across the world since ‘the crisis’ – as it is known in Iceland – last October. What they might not have anticipated is becoming immortalised in a mirror.
But that’s what young designer Ingibjörg Hanna Bjarnadóttir has done/ recreated the physical profiles of some of the biggest names to emerge from Iceland’s economic meltdown in the form of wall mirrors. These include the country’s new prime minister, Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir; Eva Joly, who is investigating the crisis; investor Jón Ásgeir Jóhannesson, whose retail empire includes, for now, House of Fraser and Debenhams – and even our very own Alistair Darling. ‘His eyebrows and glasses create a wonderful profile,’ she says of Britain’s Chancellor.
‘I’m not commenting on whether they are good or bad people,’ says Ingibjörg Hanna (like all Icelanders, she is just known by her first name). ‘I want people to ask themselves how they feel when they look at their own reflections through these individuals’ silhouettes. They are all personalities that evoke strong emotions in Iceland.’
Ingibjörg Hanna is fast becoming one of the best-known young designers in Iceland and beyond. She’s just won the Erro Design Competition, awarded at the country’s first design festival, Design March, which took place last month. The brief was to design a product inspired by Erro’s work – he is an Icelandic pop artist, currently showing at Reykjavik’s Museum of Art. Ingibjörg Hanna created a caricature of the Icelandic poet and Nobel Prize winner Halldór Laxness with a blank PVC speech bubble attached – for memos, drawings and doodles. It is about to go into production.
Her other, recent, work is becoming almost ubiquitous in Iceland. Walk into Epal, the country’s foremost design store, and you are greeted by a flock of black, pink and white wooden birds, wings outstretched, suspended from the ceiling. Stroll round the tiny airport shop – not to mention a pop-up store in Reykjavik – and there they are again. The eagle-eyed might even have spotted them at last year’s 100% Design. The birds – clothes hangers – have, in just a few years, become one of the more recognisable pieces of Icelandic design. ‘They are inspired by the raven, which is said to have discovered Iceland and is seen as a symbol of hope,’ says Ingibjörg Hanna.
‘The wings are the perfect shape from which to hang clothes. They’re selling really well here.’ In the UK, too – at Rocket St George and Beyond the Valley.
Her work is deeply influenced by Iceland’s landscape, native wildlife and strong literary heritage. Her Not Rudolf coat rack consists of a pair of wooden plywood antlers, perfect for hanging coats on. And her Ljosspor tables, shelves and lamps feature an old Nordic textile pattern as their base. Ingibjörg Hanna didn’t train as a product designer: she graduated in graphic design from Iceland’s Academy of Arts, but veered towards products almost by accident. She believes Iceland’s design scene is a burgeoning one, finally stepping out from the shadow of the better-known Scandinavian design.
‘People are becoming much prouder of Icelandic design – and since the crisis, manufacturers are seeing it as a business opportunity,’ she says. ‘They are keener to experiment with new designers now – creativity, not making a fast buck, is now seen as more desirable.’
She joins designers Katrin Olina Petursdóttir (Tree coat stand) and Hrafnkell Birgisson (Hoch die Tassen vintage cups on wine-glass stems) as names known outside the country.
Not surprisingly for an inaugural event, Design March was a small-scale show compared with the likes of 100% Design, though there were lively satellite events around the centre of Reykjavik, talks, fashion shows and parties. But it is still the first step in Iceland’s emergence as a design player. Ideo chief creative officer Paul Bennett gave a keynote speech at Reykjavik University during the event. ‘Designers are the most powerful group in Iceland right now,’ he said. He also spoke of the ‘seismic energy’ behind the country’s regeneration. ‘It’s all about staying optimistic,’ says Epal design store’s Halldor Steinsen. ‘And with that comes innovation: “new” Iceland is now based on older, better morals.’
For most Icelanders, that’s good news. And if they need reminding of what can go wrong, there are Ingibjörg Hanna’s mirrors to remind them.