“If I hadn’t been in design, I would probably be an archeologist,” says Icelandic designer Siggi Odds, “out there digging up Viking swords and stuff.” Siggi spent the first part of his life in Vancouver, living on the University of British Columbia campus while his parents were students. Vancouver is a city saturated with the presence of “First Nations art”—bold, blocky designs that are abstract in appearance but rigid in process and form.
“We lived right next to the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver,” says Siggi, “and the designs were always in the back of my head. I really started to miss it once I moved away and began to study art,” His first projects as a designer, including his BA thesis, revolved around these designs. “I loved the formality around it,” he explains. “It was really just an opportunity to learn more about the structures, rules and traditions around these forms.” He repeatedly brings up the educational aspects of his projects; he works to learn.
Siggi is the art director of the well-known Reykjavík design agency Jónsson & Le’macks, and also works as a freelance illustrator and designer. While working on a brand design for the local R&B trio Sturla Atlas, he came up with the idea of writing their name in a traditional runic alphabet. “I became shocked that I didn’t know how to read runes,” he says. “In other cultures people can still read or at least study ancient alphabets like Greek. No one in Iceland, that I know of, can read runes, though.” Yet knowledge of this alphabet and half-hearted romanized versions of it can be found all over the country: The Reykjavík Lights Hotel sign that beams over Suðurlandsbraut, and Mjölnir, the MMA studio where Gunnar Nelson works, both use the runic style of font that Siggi is exploring.
His natural inquisitiveness drew him in further. He consulted Wikipedia and forums on the University of Iceland’s website. After deciding to focus on the Elder Fuþark, the oldest runic alphabet, he started to draw out well-known logos, like the Olís gas station sign, using these letters.
During DesignMarch, Siggi’s project—which at the moment consists of “about twelve different logos, eight or nine of which are good enough to use, but we’ll see, I still have a few days”—will be exhibited at the National Gallery of Iceland. “I want it to be educational,” he emphasises again. “These are all logos that people know, so they can work backwards from the letters. O-L-Í-S…”
The National Gallery of Iceland is a fitting home for his historical investigation. The gallery typically hosts work that preserves or explores traditional Icelandic art. Unburdened by the rigour that his inner archeologist would have to adhere to, Siggi has in effect created his own history to explore. “If the bible hadn’t been brought here then the Latin (Roman) alphabet would not have been introduced, and we might still be using the runes or some version of them,” he says. “It’s also sort of exploring this parallel leg of the multiverse, like maybe we’re just living in some dystopian sort of version of history.” Like some retro sci-fi, Siggi has created a glimpse at an alternate Iceland. One that exists in the time of “if,” and begins in the parking lot of Olís.