Brynjar Sigurðarson and Veronika Sedlmair—spouses and masterminds behind Studio Brynjar & Veronika—define the word undefinable. Their projects run the gamut from hyper-realistic fake stones to 3D moulds to sound installations and one-of-a-kind instruments. While the two are often called designers, that label seems utterly limiting when put in conjunction with their work. They are simply creators.
For years, they’ve toiled away making bronze, glass, and everything in between out of their Marseille studio and recently were rewarded when Brynjar won the coveted Torsten & Wanja Söderbergs Prize. The two currently have an exhibit, ‘Reservation,’ at Hafnarborg, which began as part of DesignMarch.
To understand the peculiarity and, for lack of a better term, extremity of Brynjar and Veronika’s works, you need but look at one of their emblematic creations—an instrument called the circle flute.
The idea came to the two spontaneously one day: a circular flute played by four people surrounding the listener. They instantly jumped headfirst into the project, but soon found it was much more complicated than originally anticipated.
“Flute-makers are a dying species. There are none in Germany and maybe four in France,” Veronika explains. From that pool, though, they had to find one that could manipulate the mechanisms of the flute into a circular shape and enlarge it without sacrificing the sound—not an easy task. That said, they eventually found a specialised maker in Paris. “This was where the design started. He invented these small ball joints. That was something new,” adds Brynjar.
From there, they had to find players, which proved to be just as difficult. In order to play the circular flute as Brynjar and Veronika desired, they’d have to find flutists who could do circular breathing—a technique flutists rarely use. “Circular breathing is difficult on the flute because you are blowing on the mouthpiece with varied force rather than into it,” Brynjar explains. “It’s really technical.” Technical, yes, and uncommon.
After a difficult search, they ended up connecting with four flutists from around Europe who were up for the challenge, and employed Icelandic composer Þráinn Hjálmarsson to create music for them. After an intensive retreat in the Westfjords with the group, the musicians were ready and the circular flute made its debut. “In the middle, it’s almost therapeutic,” Brynjar says. “It becomes a physical experience. You become a resonator. It’s quite beautiful.”
A beautiful mistake
The circular flute, though, is but one of the couple’s creations, and they have hundreds of similarly intricate and thought-out pieces. ‘Reservation’ is filled with these objects—each with a detailed story behind its inception. The exhibition is laid out in a large square room. On one wall lies a large mural of abstract shapes and perpendicular to that sits a long table piled with objects like a buffet. Walking with Brynjar along the length of the table, he points out a few pieces and explains their process.
On one corner lies a collection of miscellaneous see-through objects. “Here, we were really fascinated by things that are semi-translucent,” Brynjar outlines. He picks up a piece of transparent plastic material and positions it next to a selection of glass sculptures rife with rough bubbly texture. To make these objects, he explains, the two had to study glass-making.
“When you pour hot glass into a mould, it releases air bubbles. The glass is like thick honey and it gets trapped,” Brynjar says. “In the glass scene, though, this would be considered a disaster, a terrible mistake.” He’s referring to the bubbly texture of the sculpture. “We spent two weeks preparing the plaster mould and we were just watching everything get destroyed,” he laughs. “But then we saw that there was beauty in it. Glass is a fascinating material.”
Lying next to the glass sculptures are a series of photographs displaying semi-transparent objects, all with the same shape. Looking closer, though, you realise that one is a jellyfish, one is a plastic bag—widely different, in both location and material, they share a motif.
‘Reservation’ is rife with these interconnected photos. Brynjar points to a series just down the line from the transparent images. “We see a lot of these natural textures,” he explains. The photos all share a nearly identical pattern, though it’s difficult to figure out exactly what each is. “This is stone. This is wood. This is ice. The shapes reappear over and over.”
The creation of these matching photographs, Brynjar and Veronika explain, is purely accidental. The two take photos wherever they go and Brynjar painstakingly sorts through each one. “It’s kind of a self-documentation,” he says. “You learn about yourself when you look at 5 or 10,000 images. It’s been maybe 10 years I have been doing this intense photographing and you start seeing patterns.” He pauses. “That must mean that there is something in that which touches me.”
For both, taking photos is only step one of the process. “You capture some interesting scenes, which become inspiration for a study, which then maybe leads into an object,” Veronika explains. “It’s not only about the moment of taking the photograph, but also coming back and arranging it, pairing photographs with each other. From there new things emerge.”
“It’s an unconscious process,” Bynjar emphasises as Veronika smiles. “It will be interesting to one day look back at the unfiltered images and see if you’d choose the same ones,” she adds. “You probably wouldn’t.”
Following the belly
At all times, both Veronika and Brynjar are remarkably humble. They hardly ever mention where they have exhibited certain pieces, even when it was at celebrated museums, focusing only on stories of the drama and calamity that befell the two while making them. Brynjar’s prize was, of course, welcome, but certainly didn’t go to the artist’s head.
In truth, he doesn’t say much about it. “It’s a great honour, just a bit crazy to think about it,” he says. “I guess you might feel a responsibility, you’d think, ‘well I’m not just some guy somewhere, now I have to be something.’ But what we try is just to keep on searching, keep on being curious, do self-initiated things.” Veronika nods. “We do what the belly says,” she adds. “And we will keep doing what the belly says.”
Info: ‘Reservation’ will be at Hafnarborg until May 26th, 2019.
Book your day tours in Iceland right here!