From Iceland — New World, New Ways: DesignMarch Adapts To The COVID-19 Era

New World, New Ways: DesignMarch Adapts To The COVID-19 Era

Published June 19, 2020

New World, New Ways: DesignMarch Adapts To The COVID-19 Era
Poppy Askham
Photo by
Art Bicnick

As Iceland steps into the post-coronavirus sunlight (fingers tightly crossed), Reykjavík’s design community is frantically preparing for DesignMarch, or as director Þórey Einarsdóttir refers to it, “the cultural harbinger of spring”. The rescheduled festival—which was, as you might have surmised, was supposed to be held in March—hopes to usher in more positive times for the city’s creatives.

Pulling together

“In these COVID times, one week is like a year; so much happens on a daily basis and there are so many changes. It’s been quite a journey,” Þórey explains. And it’s a journey, she emphasises, in which she and her fellow event organisers have been determined to involve participants every step of the way. 

“This year’s festival will have a more local focus”, says Þórey, explaining that support from Reykjavík’s local community is more important than ever. It was vital that the exhibiting designers, whom Þórey refers to as the “heart and soul” of the festival, were involved in the postponement decision-making process. 

That spirit of cooperation characterises this year’s festival. Take Björn Steinar Blumenstein’s project, Catch Of The Day: Limited COVID-19 Edition–“He’s produced hand sanitiser out of food-waste, which he’s going to contribute to all the other participants,” Þórey tells us. It seems, in the face of the pandemic, designers have banded together rather than work solo. “That’s what I love about this community, it’s so collaborative”. 

Highstreet Highlights

The unpredictability of the past few months have demanded flexibility from both organisers and designers. In fact, Þórey estimates that around 80% of participants have changed their plans for the festival in the last two months. “We’re coming back to basics,” she explains.”We’re coming back to how it started. We’ve had no time to plan—things are just happening organically.” 

A key logistical issue has been finding ways to exhibit work whilst still maintaining the recommended two-metre distance between people. But the community found an unusual solution: Fill Laugavegur’s empty storefronts with designers’ work. 

The project, led by artist Signý Jónsdóttir, is a nod to the empty storefronts of the post-financial crash period in which DesignMarch started. It capitalises on the new lease of life the high street is experiencing—one that began at the height of the coronavirus outbreak. “Everybody was out. Everything was closed but it was beautiful to see people everywhere, just walking and enjoying the city,” Þórey says. 

Highs and Lows

That said, many sacrifices have been made this year. COVID has seen the number of participants in DesignMarch shrink from 160 to around 72. International projects have been jettisoned until next year due to travel restrictions and fashion designers have struggled to negotiate their industry’s rigid seasonal cycles. DesignTalks, the festival’s signature opening conference, curated by Hlín Helga Guðlaugsdóttir and fittingly titled “New World, New Ways”, has also been postponed.

Despite these disappointments, Þórey is optimistic that this year’s festival will have plenty to offer. In fact, she believes the new social dynamic offers unique opportunities for experimentation. “It’ll be interesting to see how the design community is going to react because fundamentally [designers] can bring change,” she says. “They think in solutions.” 

DesignMarch 2020 will be held on June 24th-28th with a jam-packed programme of 101 events and 72 talented exhibitors – you’d be mad to miss it! 

Photo by Art Bicnick

Here’s three of our festival highlights:


Sweater Sauce 

Photo by DesignMarch

We love Ýrúrarí and we LOVE her latest project. Working in collaboration with the Red Cross, Ýrúrarí has injected new life into previously unsellable donated sweaters.  Dedicated followers of Icelandic fashion will recognise the designer’s signature surreal, playful approach to knitwear. Inspired by the unfortunate stains found on many of the sweaters, Ýrúrarí celebrates Iceland’s love affair with the humble hotdog. Bonus tip, there’ll be a fashion show on June 27th at 15:00, see you there!

ASMR U Ready?

*whispers soothingly into the mic* Physically touching materials is so 2019, in 2020 we prefer to experience textures through the magic of ASMR. Seriously this exhibition is not one to be missed, it’s got it all—if by “all” you mean meat packaging made out of animal skin, horse-hair experiments and animal bones turned into construction supplies. Valdís Steinarsdóttir is one to watch. 

Wave By Genki Instruments

Imagine if you could just wave your hands and control sound waves—unless you’re a conductor this is probably as close as you’re going to get. Genki Instruments has developed a ring that lets you control music through movement and they’ll let you try it out at Ásmundarsalur. Just imagine the feeling of unbridled power. Genki Instruments are kind of a big deal, they won the 2019 Icelandic Design Awards, so don’t miss this opportunity. 

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