The Icelandic Love Corporation – Embody
Pinksummer: A variety of studies on Icelandic women report how deeply emancipated they are without giving up their femininity in terms of fertility. As a matter of fact, Island has the highest birth rate among western countries, the highest divorce rate, the highest rate of women working out of home.
Besides the per capita income, one of the six highest in the world, and the substantial paganism of Icelandic people that Christian missionaries cannot notch, ethnographic studies took the empowering freedom of Icelandic women back to their Viking ancestors and provided as an example a saying that made us laugh: “The Vikings went abroad and the women ran the show….”.
Speaking about empowerment and feminine crafts, we have read that before adopting the international name The Icelandic Love Corporation you were called Gjörningaklúbburinn, a name that you did not manage to effectively translate in English, a composed word that refers to magic, sorceries, witchcrafts, but also to tailoring, sewing and embroidering circles.
Sewing and embroidery assume some ritual connotations in your work, as if evoking a protected space, a magical circle, which purpose is to let forces that are physical and emotional at the same time emerge. Are you some kind of witches?
The Icelandic Love Corporation: Icelandic women are a lot of fun to be around – at least our friends and most of our relatives (not naming any names). The Sagas tell us of great characters that would use sarcasm, among other things, as weapons in their fight against oppression.
We like to use humor too. So in that sense we can trace this characteristic back to our Viking ancestors. We can thank our tenacious ancestors of all ages for a lot of things.
When we were growing up in the 1980’s our mothers were all members of their own respective sewing circles, that would meet at each others house, every other week or so, and we came to understand that the purpose of these clubs was not only sewing or knitting but friendship and sharing of feelings.
This was an empowering hour of laughter and support and of course some gossiping. One of us remembers sitting in the kitchen and listening to the conversation, when one of them was going through a divorce or one had a very sick child, and also when they were talking about future plans, career, feminism, and doing general problem solving with support from friends.
These clubs could be a channel for everything. Political action, social action, healing, sharing and feeling strong. But still this kind of gathering of people was not highly regarded in society.
The sewing circle is a subordinated social group. The general opinion is that a sewing circle is just some superficial bunch of ladies getting together to chat and make crochet doilies, when this is actually the site of very important decision making.
When we were together in The Icelandic Academy of Arts and Crafts back in 1996, we started collaborating and we felt that it really accelerated the work process. Through discussion the raw ideas manifested more clearly and with more hands practical things became easier.
We decided to name the group Gjörningaklúbburinn, partially in honor of the sewing club, this practice of our ancestors and also as a provocation since sewing circle work is of course not considered to be real artistic work.
But instead of the ‘knit’ or ‘sewing’ prefix we put ‘gjörninga’, which means action or performance but has connotations to ancient magic acts and witchcraft. (What is funny semiotics wise is that the word english word craft, can mean both an activitiy that involves making something in a skillful way by using your hand (but still craft is subordinated to art) and witchery. Crafty people are the ones with magic, they are clever in a deceptive way.
But we do not consider ourselves to be witches. We belief in the power of collaboration and we belief that the witchcraft is probably is hidden there, in the relationships and in the energy between people, the collective consciousness.
P: A slogan from feminist Seventies was: “Tremble! Tremble! Witches are Back.”
In Island though witches never ended up burnt at the stake and were free to keep on weaving all their emotions, included their own lunar sexuality, without fearing any conflict against the logos.
Indeed the Latin word textus derives from the verb to weave, which means that any text can be read as a weft, a textile made from words, while a language in its structure can be seen as a pre-scientific science based on the two basic concepts of semantic, i.e. the meaning and the understanding, and, when the act of seeing is not disconnected from the act of naming, the language can be used in a concrete, not to say incarnated, way.
Some kind of magical-natural thinking is then undertaken, not at all androcentric and definitely more peaceful than any male rationale, that subtends what the Greeks called physis.
Your second solo show at pinkummer is called “Embody” and it is part of an articulated project titled “Think Less – Feel More”. Is that a political plan?
ILC: Do you mean Think Less – Feel More, when you ask if it is political plan? Yes you might see that as a political plan. A statement like this is two edged, counter to its message it does indeed demand thinking.
But in our mind it is still somtimes important to stop counting on the rational thinking we are all praising so much and let the emotional realm rule. Rational thinking has not saved us from tragedy in the world, perhaps more the contrary. It is love, empathy and emotional activity that grounds ethics. So we urge people to feel more, and trust their feelings and listen to their hearts.
It is true that in medieval time only three women were burnt at the stake for witchcraft or heresy in Iceland, as opposed to 19 men, between 1500 -1700. (History tells of incidents in Scandinavia, were witches were put to fire in groups.) On the other hand 18 women were drowned for becoming pregnant out of wedlock in Iceland (the last one in 1749). So the statement that they were free in their sexuality back then, is ambigous.
The subject / object mystery is on-going. A material and its nature and physis can evoke complicated emotional activity. For Embody we have created material sculptures that are deriving from performance.
That is what the title of our show refers to. The sculptures or objects are an embodiment of a performance, which is kind of strange since performance usually involves the body, but we want to stress that even though a performance involves a body it is nonetheless mostly a subjective or spiritual thing.
So these objects that we are presenting at pinksummer have gone through the mill of thought and then been presented as action or moments of abstract (or not so abstract) feeling, the performance, which then has become something material. So it is incarnated performance.
When we started working togethere our works were mostly performance but soon we began working with objects and all kinds of other medium as well. We belief that all of our works can be seen to have roots in performance.
Like most sculpture, our three-dimensional work is created in relation to the form of the human body and its proportions, but our works additionally play on the borders between sculpture, object, prop, costume, body. In order for our sculpture to work, one must approach them through the form and subjectiveness of a human body. In this way we find it interesting to investigate the connection between material and emotion.
And now we even suspect that material itself can ignite emotion between itself, building on the experience created in performance. Wich blurs even further the distinction between material objects and performance.
One of the works in the exhibition is a giant weaving of nylon pantyhose which in its colorful and mulitlayered character has spiritual or shamanistic qualities, although it is quite geometrical in its construct. Just like language. Even though it is a structural thing, with its rules and grammar, it has magical qualities.
P: In the movie La Ciociara, directed by Vittorio De Sica in 1960 after the homonymous novel by Alberto Moravia, there is a very tragic scene showing Cesira, played by Sofia Loren, slapping her thirteen years old daughter Rosette’s face, who gave herself to the truck driver Florindo for some pantyhose.
The little girl was already raped together with her mother by a group of north African soldiers, who tracked them down in a ruined church, while the two women were on their way back to Rome after evacuating the city to escape World War 2 bombings. Pantyhose get an emblematic value in this movie, marking the traumatic passage of a woman from her childhood to her adulthood.
It seems that for the women who lived beyond the iron curtain, pantyhose embodied the dream of the wealthy Western lifestyle, and, until not much time ago, Eastern European girls were seen wearing pantyhose in the middle of summery sultriness too as emblems of their eventually acquired wealthy condition.
Wikipedia reports that although pantyhose are considered socks, they are not exactly such and even that in the western world they are a feminine article, but that the situation could suddenly change, as actually designers have begun to insert them in male fashion shows and the producers have begun to propose them in Europe also for males just responding to the increasing request.
Perhaps we already touched that topic in our last press release, but we would like to go back to the pantyhose theme because that seems to be a favorite and recurring material in your work.
ILC: We have a long-term relationship with nylon. We have used nylon pantyhose for a variety of purpose. As pantyhose, but also to make paintings, sculpture and installation. They can be used in a surprisingly diverse way.
From early childhood most females of the western world have an experience with this material in some special way. It is like you say, still mostly in the female realm, but with contemporary cross transmission between all types of gender and identity it has become more attractive to all different kinds of people.
In Iceland we recognize the same slut-shaming concept that you describe in the reference to the Vittorio de Sica film, because English and American soldiers who occupied Iceland (then a colony of Denmark) during World War II, gave local women and girls nylon pantyhose in exchange for sexual favors.
Why did these guys have this in their possession? Was this an act of war and an imperialist move? To equip all soldiers with a few pairs of nylon stockings? Or did they individually pack them, just in case? This is an interesting research topic.
Nylon and specifically nylon pantyhose are very interesting objects in such, as they raise diverse emotional reaction. The material nylon is a total showstopper in the realm of materials. The nylon stockings were marketed in 1939 and immediately became immensely popular. Nylon was first produced by DuPont in 1935 and has this intricate convoluted relationship to war, the victory of capitalism and western thought in general.
It is quite a divine invention per se. Made from raw crude oil, it is the replica of silkworm thread previously used to make very expensive stockings, but stronger and thinner, and as such a symbol of how technology strives in replicating natures own creation, usually in a very clumsy way, but with nylon it is actually an improvement! Nylon is a multi faceted material.
Super strong and super flexible, and thus ideal and very attractive in character. But if there is a small fracture it all comes apart… (like sometimes happens in society or life in general). So we have ambivalent feelings towards the nylon. Synthetic has stigma. Obviously, it represents all that is destroying the planet. Out of control industrialisation, consumerism and single-use culture.
But the nylon stockings that we have been using for several years have very little commercial value, we get them from a factory in Finland (the last factory in Scandinavia to manufacture nylon stockings) and they are mostly stuff that they would bring to the recycling bin anyway. The run off of the factory. So this also turns around this value matter.
We are working with materials that do not have value but still resemble objects of value and objects of dominance, dominance over nature, the female body, the female soul. But we still love the nylon pantyhose. They are a great gift to mankind and all people who like to wear them.
P: Would you please tell us about your exhibition at pinksummer and the performance you are going to present during the opening at White Hole Space caviar?
ILC: We will be showing a video documentation of our performance piece Think Less – Feel More, and objects that embody this performance and its spirit.
Think Less – Feel More, presents the multi – layered interplay of different symbols and myths, which might look abstract at first glance, but are in fact familiar images that we recognize from our collective culture.
The work raises questions on power structures, control, chaos, abundance, activity and passivity, which emphasize the invisible rules and systems in our society. 21 performers, actors, musicians, dancers and an architect, took part in the show which lasted approximately 51 minutes and was performed twelve times at The National Gallery of Iceland.
Only 40 guests were allowed each session and they were all required to wear black clothes.
During the process after we did the performance and started focusing on the sculptural element, these objects that we will be showing at pinksummer, have obviously taken on their own form and gradually withdrawn from the performance they have their origin in. This is the natural process of all entities. So it will be very interesting to see them realized in the gallery space.
Our whole body of work is connected. One thing spawns another and a new thing can cast a deeper light on what was going on in the previous stuff. So it is a web as opposed to a chronological progression.
These new works are made with similar materials as we have been using, natural things juxtaposed with synthetic materials. All quite familiar stuff, but presented in a new and unexpected manner.
Thus we connect with surrealist legacy by creating something new from familiar things.
We are three people working together and we depend very much on intuition and flow.
The ideas flow between us and the milieu, and we connect with them and none of us has a totally clear and rational concept of what it all means. It is a flow.
But it still has to make sense, but hopefully not only rational sense.
Through aesthetic approach we hope to carve out a deeper and extended understanding of human existence.
We still don’t know exactly what we will be doing for our performance at White Hole.
It will have something to do with proximity and intimacy and will probably involve disco music.