The Icelandic Love Corporation – Origin
Pinksummer: Once you claimed that you do not like to explain too much what you do. You just like to prepare the soup, as you declared, and let anyone who likes to taste it decide if it is good or bad. But you said also that your work is sincere, by associating sincerity with a humor that is foundational, to quote you: “humor is super-necessary even though you are expressing something serious, you can touch people with very humor effectively.” Sincerity, humor and seriousness appear to be connected in this sense.
It has just been translated and published in Italy a collection of essays by Virginia Woolf, in one of which the writer too associates not the humor, which claims to be closed to women (as, she said, they are only allowed to be tragic or comic), but the laughter with sincerity and seriousness, as you can laugh about something or someone, only by guessing his or her deepest essence Humor, Woolf says, stand on the summit of those excellent minds who look at life from up there as it was a panorama. Sudden genuine laughter gets out of children’s mouths and of silly women, an inarticulate sound to which is socially conferred much less virtue than to the tears and the black.
Yet it is precisely the ability to laugh that distinguishes men from animals and the higher beings, because, as we know, neither dogs nor the gods have never been seen laughing. Regardless, Woolf writes, “that in seeking the privileged point of observation of the humorist, while keeping himself in balance on the pinnacle denied to her sisters, the male gymnasts often ignominy falls on both sides, or into the grotesque, or descend to the hard ground of serious banality, where – to be honest with him – it should be said that he is totally at ease.”
Woolf argues then that the solemn spirit of tragedy belongs to the male gender, while the comedy belongs to the same gender of the Graces and the Muses. Occasionally the comedy bursts out laughing in front of the hat and frock coat solemnity of contemporary tragedy and concludes: “Actually there is nothing as difficult as laughing and making people laugh, but there is no ability that is worth more than that.
It is a blade that cuts off what is superfluous, scales down our actions and words and takes them back to their actual size.”
Do you believe that humor has a gender and laughter a different one?
The Icelandic Love Corporation: There might be a difference in how men and women use laughter and humor but we find it hard to pinpoint. For some reason there are much fewer women doing stand-up comedy, but those who do are often extremely funny and sharp, like the british ones, Smack the Pony. But it’s with this business as all other business, women usually have to be much better than the men to get through…which should make art lovers more secure in buying art made by successful women artists…
Laughter is a gift of to humanity, that is right, like love and so many other wonderful gifts of life. It can be a powerful tool, for good and bad, and there is a huge difference between laughing at or laughing with somebody. The layers and fine tuning of both laughter and humor are sometimes complicated and interwoven. A good social intelligence is necessary in the forest of laughter. A good laugh says more than a thousand words and in it has been said that nothing frightens men more than the laughter of women.
The works we will be showing at Pinksummer are not funny but they might bring out a giggle for the ones who find genitals embarrassing. The work might even stir up some uncomfortable feelings for some religious fanatics, but we will then just have to live with that.
Like you mention in the beginning of your long question, we often use humor in our work and decided from very early on to stop working if it would not be fun anymore. We sometimes also say that our work is 40% irony and 60% sincerity. Or was it the other way around…? In other words we like to think of our work as being both funny and serious at the same time. We strongly belief that if you want to get a message through it works better to be funny or entertaining than to be lecturing or moralizing. Humor is a strong force in breaking down taboos and opening up difficult matters. It is very cathartic and mankind has known this since forever. So, yes, we cling to it in a feminine way since we are female and we build on our own experience.
P: Giacomo Leopardi, one of the greatest Italian poets who lived between 18th and 19th centuries, temporary devoted himself to prose and wrote “Small Moral Works” that he defined ” a book of poetic dreams, inventions and melancholic caprices” in which nature is conceived as indifferent-to-humans entity and human life as a struggle for survival destined to fail. One of those small works is the metaphysical and unreal “Dialogue Between Nature And An Icelander,” telling about an Icelandic who became a traveler out of desperation and eventually find himself below the equator in the presence of Nature, a beautiful and terrible woman, as large as the big heads of Easter Island. When the Nature asks the Icelander why he is in a place where his species is unknown, the man begins to explain how for all his life he tried to escape the suffering entailed by human life, for which he blames the listener herself.
At first – says the Icelander – to escape the folly of men who cause themselves damage with wars and competitions, he took refuge in the solitude “that on my native island one can easily obtain”, but “the length of winter, the intensity of cold and the heat of summer, which are qualities of that place, constantly tormented me.”
Then the Icelander tells that he left Iceland, but even elsewhere he did not find redemption of his suffering, complaining about not having found any comfortable place so far. At a certain point of the gripe, the Nature interrupts the Icelander to ask him if he believed that the world was created for him and goes on claiming that, honestly, her purpose is the perpetuation of the world, understood as the duality of birth and death, creation and destruction, and certainly not to cause pleasure or pain to the people about whom she does not care at all and she is not aware of any good or wrong she might do them.
The end is sarcastic: it seems that while the Nature and the Icelander were involved in such a conversation, two lions suddenly came up and ate the Icelander; others – Leopardi writes – tell instead that an incredibly strong wind blew and covered the Icelander with sand that mummified him and that he is currently exhibited in a museum in an undisclosed city of Europe.
Voltaire had already chosen an Icelander for the dialogue “L’Histoire de Jenni ‘, Leopardi choose the Icelander as emblematic of the idea of man struggling hard to survive in a world not certainly built on a human scale. Do you believe that the small and wonderful Iceland, capable to stop the frenzy of our world with the eruption of one of its 200 volcanoes, have tempered your work?
ILC: Yes, we are certain that growing up in this environment has moulded us in some way.
Icelanders as well as other humans of this world are a part of Nature, we are one of Natures animals in that sense, and yes we are certain that growing up in this environment has moulded us in some way. In that sense it is also interesting to see that, even though the three of us have traveled like the Icelander in this funny story, and lived in other countries, all of us have moved back to Iceland. We are like salmons that turn back to where they were “born” to lay our own eggs, the river might be cold and strong but this is where we come from.
The problem with a big part of mankind is that we have departed from nature, and don’t see her as a part of ourselves even though we are made of the same materials. Once there was a woman who wanted to safe a tree that was supposed to be knocked down, so she climbed up the tree and refused to come down until she was sure to have saved the tree. It took two years and 8 days and in the meantime she had gotten in such a close contact to the tree itself that during a big storm she had learned how to move and bend together with the tree, and this saved her life.
The biggest threats to life on earth are man made, atom bomb and greenhouse effect. We need to take notice of mother earth and stop doing things that harm her or use things that do not work when she needs to erupt once in a while. Without a healthy planet there is no travelling, no art, no life as we know it.
It is fascinating that the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in 2010, almost brought the western world to a halt. This infuriated a lot of people who felt as if technology had saved them from nature. A man screamed in an airport in England: “I hate Iceland!”. There is a theory, that states that it was an eruption in Lakagigar in Iceland that was one of the main reason for the French revolution. In 1783 this volcano spewed out so much poisonous ashes that it killed one in every five Icelander and blew all over the world and caused famine in Europe, which led to the uprising of the people against the aristocrats.
It is kind of a paradox that the man would have to leave Iceland to meet this grotesque woman called Nature, because we would think that she was also existing in Iceland. But it is also symbolic that Nature is a woman that lives below the Equator. This can be seen as symbolic of the sex organs. The female sex organ is mystical and hidden inside the body, to males it might seem grotesque and almost like a hot wound, that erupts. So in that sense this story also captures the essence of how men and women have been put into different categories in western culture through the ages.
The male is cold and logical but the female is warm and illogical, sentimental and rather stupid. The tendency was strong and in some way maybe still is, to think of Nature in this way, that she is just kind of dimwitted in her endless circle of creation and destruction. She doesn’t listen to any reasoning. People still like to think that they base their decisions on logic. And that science and technology have brought us to a point where we have conquered nature, but when we take a closer look we see how crude and sterile mans synthetic creations are in comparison with nature. Humans are natural and illogical, and under the spell of the emotions, more than we like to admit.
P: Thoreau in Walden says derisively that there are women who take care of embroidering a tea tablecloth until the last day of their life instead of thinking about metaphysical problems involved by death.
We remember with great pleasure our visit to your studio in Reykjavik and conversation about the project for pinksummer, holding a cup of tea in our hands while one of you was nursing her baby and all of us were pampering him.
It still makes us laugh thinking at when one of you showed us the envelope of a Sanpellegrino pantyhose and exclaimed “good idea!” with her eyes wide on the image on the package showing a female body with a little bit flabby belly and buttocks beside the same body transformed by wearing the pantyhose into a flat stomach and pumped up butt figure. As a matter of fact, the very word equality has taken woman to emulate man, while disowning her peculiarities, except those making her a mere object of desire.
You are often engaged in purely female occupations such as embroidery, sewing, knitting. Among other things, you made up the costume catching fire wore by Bjork on the cover of Volta.
All that conscious and calm lingering in such housework has something political that refers to a matriarchal dimension, out of any abstract aesthetic canon that has been made up around us. Do you think that it possible to re-weave the world by embroidering and drinking tea?
ILC: Yes, drinking tea can have a radical effect. It was actually the clear mind of drinking coffee and probably tea as well, that made the French revolution. Not just a stupid volcano. Before coffee came to Europe people drank much more beer and where not in shape for revolution making.
But aside from that, we like to embrace the traditional technique of our grandmas and love to mix it with our creativity and ideas. Why should that technique be inferior? The point of feminism is not to put us all into the alpha male mould, but to embrace the qualities often more connected to “the other sex”. Lets enjoy peoples diversity, that is the key to reweave the world.
It is quite annoying that feminine is always connected with shallow or not important. Even intelligent men like Thoreau are apparently guilty of this predjudice. We would of course like to change that. Why is female always second-place? Maybe embroidering all by itself is not capable of changing the world.
A friend of ours once told us an interesting story about an experiment among orangutangs. Among the tribes of the orangutangs there always seem to be born a few individuals, that are severly aggressive and violent control freaks. They become the so called alpha males of the groups and rule over them with threat and fear.
The scientists believed that if you removed these males, the next ones in the line of hierarchy would automatically evolve into becoming such violent patriarchs or dictators. But this did not happen. Most of time the tribe would go on living in peace and harmony for a long time, after this character had been removed. In this sense you could say that 99% of humanity is living its life, embroidering and drinking tea, in some sense, and we just need to limit the power of those few control freaks that create all the disturbance.
P: Speaking about politics, on upcoming October 1st in Iceland it will perhaps be approved what has been called the “Wiki” constitution, because for the first time a democracy allowed people to actively participate to the making of a constitutional charter.
The Constituent Assembly wanted by Johanna Sigurdadottir consists of 25 citizens whose only requirement is not being members of political parties and being of full age.
Could you please tell us something about the peaceful revolution carried forward by the Icelanders since 2008, when the reckless speculations conducted by political and financial lobbyists have led your country to an unprecedented recession?
ILC: The constitution has now been written but nobody knows what will happen next. It has still not been decided wether the parliament will decide wether to approve this constitution or if it will be put to a national referendum.
What happened in Iceland has happened before and will happen again and is happening for example in Greece, on a bigger scale. People are revolting here and there, but not much seems to really change.
Why things don’t change is due to this capitalist system we live in where money is the only paradigm. Believe it or not, it’s possible to have other measures. In Bhutan they use happiness as a barometer for political decisions and in Bolivia they have decided to put the needs of mother earth to grow and prosper before any other needs.
Sustainability is the keyword there. This capitalist system keeps 90% of the people in chains of dept so that 10% can be super rich. This is not a force of nature, but a set of rules and regulations that we have created for ourselves and can change at any time if we just set our minds to it.
The revolutions in Lybia and Egypt are in a way more real, because people are overthrowing these terrible dictators and the violence is tragic and painful. But it would be sad if they would just fall prey to materialism and capitalism or fundamental religion.
Maybe the world is really changing right now. Maybe these revolts are all connected and are the beginning of a new world order. It is hard to see clearly when the smoke is still so thick.
P: What are you going to present at pinksummer?
ILC: Wheel – a large sculpture, made from wood, nylon stockings and light.
We have used nylon pantyhose as a material in our work since the beginning of the collaboration. Several pieces such as Bald Eagle, Second Skin and Black Swan have been made with an old method that one of us learned from her grandmother, where you shape feathers or petals with wire and pantyhose.
Then we have worn them as part of our costume and last year we started to really explore the material because it has so many interesting conceptual layers. The pantyhose is a very female object but also a result of really complicated technological and chemical process. Sort of a scientific miracle, that replaced silk stockings. A symbol of mans control over nature or maybe rather a sign of how crude and sterile mans synthetic creations are in comparison with nature.
Once we were experimenting with colored pantyhose and light in our studio and saw this strong resemblance to stained glass. Many of the stained glass rose windows in gothic churches, tell the story of the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary. Wheel on the other hand demonstrates the sex organs of the human male and female, the organs that take care of the biological conception of a human embryo. The cycle of colored pantyhose represents the menstrual cycle and the cycle of the moon is also visible encircling the whole spectacle, thus connecting the outer universe to the inner universe. In the center is the egg, the sun of this inner universe and the sperm cells are approaching it. This is the real miracle of life, way more complex than we can fathom.
Sheet – This is a new piece that we have created especially for Pinksummer. It is a white sheet that has been stretched like a canvas on a strecher frame and in that sense is reminiscent of a painting. On this white sheet we have sewn groups of nylon “feathers” in red colours. These feathers are made from pantyhose and wire, an old decorative technique. Nylon stockings are almost exclusive to the female realm and we have used them throughout our body of work.
This wall piece can be seen as purely abstract, but we like to think of it as the stains that can accidentally appear on the bedsheet of a menstruating female. This blood means that this woman is not pregnant and so in a sense this is the opposite idea of what is presented in Wheel.
The sight of these stains can cause great relief or painful disappointment, or just be plain annoying. In some places or in the past women were considered to be dirty when they were having their period and this could lead to temporary rejection from society or participation in particular events. But these stains simply represent the cycle of life and in this substance or the chunks that the blood contains, all of humanity has its origin.
P: Do elves exist?