by Brainard Carey and Delia Bajo (from The Brooklyn Rail print archive)
The Icelandic Love Corporation is Sigrún Hrólfsdóttir, Jóní Jónsdóttir, and Eirún Sigurdardóttir. We sat down with two of them and talked just after their performance and exhibit in April. Eirún wasn’t present because she had to leave shortly after the opening and performance.
Rail: Your performance, it seemed to be in three parts, you kissed one another, you clipped each other’s wings, then you drank champagne and smashed glasses with a seesaw, what was happening?
Sigrún: It was like three performances in one. The kiss performance was the first performance we ever did in 1996 and it was performed for national television in Iceland. The second performance, the angels was another performance, and the third piece was from a circus performance, a clip from a circus we are working on with another artist.
It is like a remix of performances.
Praxis (Rail): Lets talk about the content of these three.
Sigrún: In the first one, I think we wanted to make something strong but simple. Also because it was for television, we wanted to use the television media to reach as many people as possible. In that performance we all kissed one another. Each kiss lasted a little longer than a friends kiss and a little shorter than a lovers kiss. At the end of the performance for television, we kissed the camera, to kiss the whole country. We wanted to create a strong impact and a kiss is a gesture of intimacy.
Rail: Did it succeed?
Jóní: We got a lot of response from all kinds of people. I think it made people think about something.
Rail: The wings?
Sigrún: Like losing your innocence, which doesn’t have to be a bad thing, maturing, trying different things. It seems like there is a sense of guilt from losing your innocence—as we know more about the world, you find out more, but it doesn’t have to be bad for you, it can be good for you. Sometimes you can initially experience something as a bad thing, but then you find afterwards that it was actually a good thing, perhaps the best thing that ever happened to you.
Rail: An example?
Sigrún: We don’t like to explain too much about what we do. We like to make a soup and whoever tastes it decides if they like it or what they think of it. But we also like sarcasm and a lot of the things we do are really sarcastic and at the same time they are very sincere. Like using the most obvious horror movie technique with the fake blood pouring on the wings when we clipped them. It is sarcastic, but humorous. We think humor is super-necessary even though you are expressing something serious; you can touch people with humor very effectively.
Rail: The third part? The circus?
Jóní: In Norway last year we had a show and invited another performance artist to work with us, and so it was a mixture of his art and ours and we have been traveling with that act if you can say that. Unfortunately he couldn’t be with us here.
Rail: That is like a traveling circus?
Jóní: He might consider it a circus act, but it is a whole different thing. He has a whole character that is a frustrated knight. He dresses like a knight and is frustrated.
Sigrún: He is stuck in his armor; he cannot speak easily!
Jóní: I think the things we did fit well. We wanted to convey a celebration, a playfulness, the intimacy of kissing first, then we brutalized each other on purpose, it was time to cut our wings, something you have to do, like taking your medicine, it may not taste good, but it has to be done. Then in the end we celebrate these happenings, we celebrate everything. Sometimes it’s nice to use simple tricks.
Rail: Danger is there as well.
Sigrún: Yes, it’s super-useless, but fun. You can have so much fun with very small things.
Rail: Lets talk about process, how do the three of you plan a show?
Jóní: Well, like this, we all sit down together and talk. For every exhibition we try to figure out what we want to say to others and ourselves. Of course in different situations there are many options, sometimes only a video, sometimes a performance. We have been working together for eight years and we have developed a kind of blueprint for doing things. There is a consistency, but it is hard to describe.
Rail: The photographs of you three with guitars exhibited in Brooklyn?
Sigrún: It is one of these things that is a bit sarcastic. We don’t play guitar. It is a little story about these rich ladies that run away from home because they don’t want to live in their big houses anymore, so they take their fur coats and guitars and go into nature and try to freak out a little bit.
Rail: It is a story…
Sigrún: It is not the only way you can see this, but it is what we were thinking. You see the city in the background; they haven’t gone far, it is always easy to go back. Also, it is about how everything can be next door. Everything that is fun and good that happens to you is what you yourself make. They feel so happy that they finally went away even if only for a day.
Rail: It is a creative act, freedom…
Jóní: Yes, they are brave, free. Doing something that reminds them of being girl scouts or something.
Rail: What about Icelandic influences, and Scandinavian culture?
Sigrún: It’s hard for us to say. We are very thankful we are from there. And they basically give you a lot of space, both literally and figuratively.
Rail: Is it easy to make a living there?
Sigrún: Yes, it is one of the highest lifestyles in the world.
Rail: That is for residents only?
Sigrún: There are some, people are welcome and basically get the same access. I think it is a lot easier to come to Iceland and work. It is different from the other Scandinavian countries in terms of immigrants. Because in the other countries, they come and are like refugees and they can’t work and receive social payments, like welfare. In Iceland everyone must work, if you don’t have a job, you can’t stay there. The government can help a lot in terms of education. I think the key to make society good is to give people education. If people have to pay for education that is bad and then people are too poor to go to school.
Rail: Your work is not influenced by political culture?
Jóní: No, not directly, but there are some things that are political if you want to see that.
Rail: The video you were showing has a specific political context. Doesn’t it?
Sigrún: Yes, it is about thanking the codfish for everything it has done for the nation. It is because of the fish that we can afford things like education and health care. It is the main industry. We fish in the sea and there is a huge international market for it!
Jóní: I think the video is a good example of sarcasm and sincerity, because we want to pay our respects to the cod because so many of them die for our luxury, but you can’t really thank a dead fish; it doesn’t know it has been thanked. But it is a good gesture, like hugging a tree or something!
Rail: How did you meet?
Sigrún: We graduated in 1996 and we were all doing independent work as artists and decided to work together. Nothing was very calculated. Like friends at school thinking about similar things, then coming together to do something and it continues.
Rail: You get along well then. Is there any difficulty working together?
Jóní: We have fights and we yell at each other, but we are pretty much a love corporation. We have developed a way of doing things. We can punch each other enough to make things work but not to repress each other. Sometimes it is really hard.
Rail: Collaborative work can be difficult, sometimes it can end because of the difficulty. Two are easier than three. Three is a more complex process.
Sigrún: Yes, but it is like a musical group.
Rail: And they are breaking up so often! Music can be played and performed even if members are not getting along. But creating together…
Sigrún: I don’t see it so different from music. Most of the time you are not creating, maybe you are gossiping then making important decisions and getting to work. We are best friends, we have some invisible rules about how we want things to be between us.
Rail: You are three minds working at the same level for a common goal. It is unlikely that one of you might be very stubborn on a point?
Jóní: Then you have to be disciplined enough to let go. Because something is at stake that is way more important. We try to see the bigger picture.
Rail: A formula?
Sigrún: Yes, but the formula always changes. As long as we are having fun in between us and not fighting we can go on forever! But you never know what will happen, maybe in twenty years we will be a sewing circle. Like alcoholics, we just take it one day at a time!
Rail: Are there any other collaboratives in Iceland?
Jóní: No, we are basically the only consistent collaborative artists. It is a country with only 300,000 people, we are the only group, so it is really easy to stand out there.
Rail: What was growing up there like?
Sigrún: I think people who are in the same age group all have a similar experience when growing up. For instance there was only one television station when we were growing up. So you can imagine, everyone comes to work and they know that they all watched the same thing on TV. And there was no television on Thursdays and one month in summer, no television.
Rail: That is great! There is nowhere else I know of where that exists!
Sigrún: There are more stations now, but that is how it was when we grew up there.
Jóní: People would complain. For families it was great, they had to sit down and have dinner and actually speak to each other! On Thursdays you would have to go out to somewhere, the theatre, interact somehow.
Artistically speaking, in terms of creativity, on Iceland it is very high. Whether it is good or not isn’t relevant, but everyone is making something. Most people are making several things, music, art, dancing. My grandfather would carve things all the time, or people write poetry, the sense of creativity is really high.
Rail: And New York?
Sigrún: It’s very different from anything else, very different from Scandinavia and Europe.
Rail: How so?
Sigrún: People are more horny here!
Sigrún: No, artistically, people are just this combination of getting a goal, I don’t know, it hard to explain, a different kind of energy.
Rail: And you like it?Sigrún: Some I like, some I don’t like.
Jóní: Exactly. I think some of the things that are good are also bad, a kind of negative/positive pressure. It is just a feeling. You can get too excited and not see what is important.
Rail: Your mind cannot focus easily here?
Jóní: It is really, really stressful energy you get here. Its like we have been here day and night in this gallery until the opening and it’s very stressful and sometimes you get really strange vibes. It is hard to explain, but it is totally different than anywhere else.
Sigrún: I also appreciate it. I think the stressful energy can also push you do things you might not in other circumstances. You just can’t let things take control of you here, doing things that you don’t want to do. You have to stay focused on what you want to do. And not let anything else get in the way. Trusting yourself, or something like that.
Jóní: I think because it is such a harsh place, such a difficult environment, people become maybe overprotective and shut themselves off and they don’t want to give, they only want to take.
Rail: Yes, of course, we understand! What about your sculpture of the eagle?
Sigrún: We are here in America; it is the symbol here. This is a more political piece. The eagle is a predator but also an American emblem and at the moment the US is being quite aggressive. It is made out of pantyhose, trying to make him evil yet soft, but he came out very sweet looking!
Rail: So you would say that your work is about a form of love?
Sigrún: Not love between a man and a woman, but love for everything, of being alive, a celebration.
Delia Bajo and Brainard Carey are Praxis, an art collaborative whose projects have been shown in PS1/MOMA and in last years Whitney Biennial. Their projects can be seen online at http://www.twobodies.com