From Iceland — Men of Letters

Men of Letters

Published March 11, 2013

Men of Letters
Rex Beckett

Diversity, collaboration, innovation and risk are a few of the qualities
that the Iceland Design Centre has aimed to highlight during
DesignMarch, a four-day festival taking place since 2009. It was these
qualities that drew them to the proposal submitted by independent
graphic designers Jónas Valtýsson and Ármann Agnarsson to create this
year’s official festival identity. The pair got to know each other two
years ago while working at an ad agency, which they left to focus on
cultural industries like book design and album artwork. This project
turned out to be their most ambitious one to date, involving architects,
carpenters and crane operators. The final result is a three and a half
metre tall grid of giant, three-dimensional wooden letters that simply
spell out HÖNNUNARMARS (“DESIGNMARCH”). We got them to tell us more
about the project and their involvement with the festival.
How did you come up 
with this concept?
Ármann: When we started this project we wanted to think of a good
way to represent all design. We are graphic designers so we tend to
think in that direction, but there are so many different fields of
Jónas: We thought about what all designers have in common, how we
could represent that and what DesignMarch means to us. We came up with
the idea that the festival is like an empty canvas that the Iceland
Design Centre puts out every year and then designers fill it up.
Basically, we made a grid of letters that is like an empty canvas and we
got four designers to fill some of them up.
Á: In the pitch we just wanted the idea to stand on its own. I
think it was Halla [Helgadóttir, Managing Director of Iceland Design
Centre] who said that the event isn’t just about the outcome, it’s about
the process. That’s what we like about working with each other. When we
started, we didn’t really know what was going to happen and that’s the
fun part, seeing how it goes and how it turns out.
Where has the process 
taken you so far?
J: I think the most exciting part has been working with the other
designers and seeing what they came up with. All of them thought of
amazing stuff. The tricky task was making the letters work as a wooden
structure. They were designed with a wooden grid in mind to begin with,
but it was also important for us to keep them elegant. We liked the
Á: In the beginning, I think the IDC was sceptical about whether
we could really do this, in terms of construction and cost. It was
really a huge thing to do and we have never done anything like this
before. We designed the letters in cooperation with Hlynur Axelsson who
then built them for us. He was essential to the project. It was really
interesting to figure out how to budget and what kind of materials to
use. The letters are made out of wood and they are huge, too. They are
really beautiful and very fragile.
J: But when they all come together, they form a strong structure.
They are attached and stacked onto each other in three rows. When we
were photographing it, it fell three times and almost killed us. It’s so
heavy and it was windy that day.
Á: Jónas was saying “Oh yeah, we’re just gonna lift it and it’s
gonna be fine!” Finally Hlynur got a friend with a truck and a crane to
help us out because four of those letters attached together are really
difficult to move. The day we tried it out felt like being on a trip and
something goes wrong like missing your train, but in the end you have a
good story to tell.
As designers, what’s the main 
highlight of DesignMarch?
J: It’s nice to have a venue where all the fields of design
can come together once a year. I think it’s really important for
everyone to get involved and for the public to see what’s going on.
Á: I think it helps to educate people about what design is and
what designers do. It really shows what’s happening in Icelandic design;
the good, the bad and everything in between. We trust that designers do
what they like and represent themselves and their field, so there is
always a range.
The Four Letters
One important aspect in both the process and the outcome of the project
involved a collaboration with four local designers who Jónas and Ármann
selected to customise one letter each. “It was really the key to the
entire concept,” Jónas says. “The designers really put life into the
letters.” Although the full structure of the letter-grid will not be
installed during the event, these four letters will be set up at various
locations throughout DesignMarch. The rest can be seen at ATMO.
H – HAF by Hafsteinn Júlíusson
As a product design and distributor, HAF focuses on products that
experiment with simplicity, societal values and ecological integrity.
For their assigned letter, they painted the wood frame fire-engine red,
installed glass encasements and turned it into a massive aquarium. Real
living fish will be put in as the final touch right before the event.
M – Mundi
The fashion designer will be showing his new collection for 66° North
during the Reykjavík Fashion Festival, which runs concurrently with
DesignMarch. Never shying away from the intensely conceptual and
irreverent, he adorned his letter with a bold, black and white patterned
fabric. The result is an intersection between zebra print, seismic map
graphics and circus wear.
N – Vík Prjónsdóttir
Putting a modern spin on traditional Icelandic knitting since 2005, Vík
Prjónsdóttir has turned their wool-work into coveted objets d’arts. They
tucked their letter up into their signature sheep wool fabric,
customised with a special event-exclusive print in soft, whimsical
colours, and threw on a bright red hand-shaped scarf for good measure.
S – Marcos Zotes
Currently living and working in Reykjavík, this Spanish architect is the
director of the UNSTABLE project, which explores the relationship
between urbanism and the role of architecture primarily through the use
of light technology. He has incorporated this into his letter, leaving
the wood frame bare and installing an interactive projection device
which people can text and watch as their message lights up a wall.

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