Published August 30, 2016
In the Ekkisens basement gallery on Bergstaðastræti, Ýr Jóhannsdóttir sits organising a large pile of colourful sweaters that will form her solo exhibition, entitled ‘Sweater Story.’ From within the stack of folded yarn, some features are visible jutting out: an embroidered hand here, a vivid knitted eyeball there, and a bright pink brain somewhere else. Even before they’re hung up on display, her work is an eye-catching and intriguing sight.
Ýr started the labour-intensive work of creating the collection at the end of May. “I make them on an analogue knitting machine,” she explains. “Then I hand decorate them with embroidery, or some pieces of hand-knitted or machine-knitted cloth.”
Her machine is something of a relic, since superseded by more modern technology, but analogue machines have become something of a retro classic. “They aren’t even made any more,” explains Ýr. “It’s something that a grandma might own—like a 60s housewife thing. But they’re popping up more now. I think they might go into production again. Mine is from the 90s, and that’s a really new model!”
But the work itself is anything but traditional. Cartoonish features are strewn over the brightly coloured garments, all of which were made from scratch by Ýr. “I tried to count how much yarn I have used,” she smiles, “and it was 108km. I’m going to calculate it all the time, and when I reach the moon, I’ll throw a party.”
The eleven garments together tell a story about two sweaters that meet, and their adventures together, but Ýr is reluctant to give away too many spoilers before her opening, saying: “I want it to be a surprise!”
The next day, the sweaters go on sale. “If I buy an old sweater and decorate it, I sell them for almost 20,000 ISK,” she explains, “but because these are made from scratch I’m going to sell the smallest one for 35,000 ISK, and the most expensive, biggest one for 55,000 ISK. People think it’s really normal to buy paintings for this kind of money—but when it’s clothes they can get a bit sceptical.”
But the price reflects the intensive work that goes into each piece. “Each sweater is 15 hours in the making,” says Ýr, “And that’s not counting however long it takes to have the ideas. Knitting a big mouth decoration takes five hours, then the embroidery, and so on. It’s fun to illustrate with embroidery—it’s like drawing really slowly.”
And while the pieces are art, Ýr is happiest if they’re worn rather than closeted away. “I want them to go out—it’s like walking art, that’s how I think about it,” she explains. “I really like it when cool people buy my clothes, because I know they’ll be out and about. Right now, they’re all together and they make a story—but then they’ll part and walk around, and never meet again probably.”
“Sweater Story” opens at Ekkisens on September 1st at 6:30pm with an opening ritual that incudes music and choreography. Find out more at www.yrurari.com.