DesignMarch is an annual design festival which takes place at Iceland’s sparkling capital of cool. Spread out across Reykjavik’s main streets, fishing harbors and the lava fields surrounding the city, this one-of-a-kind design week presents the newest developments in architecture, graphic design, fashion, furniture and product design.
Like the many Icelanders I’ve met, I found Icelandic design as something unique, alluring and bursting with creative energy. I am in awe at how much creativity, talent and output there is for such a small country. (Iceland has a population 335,000; there are more sheep – 460,000 – and puffins – 4,000,000! – than people.) There’s an intriguing, and very attractive aspect to Icelandic design which is hard to put a finger on. “This is how you do it. (This is) what makes them stand out from others. The difference is confidence,” I overheard someone say while watching Mr. Silla’s enigmatic and mesmerizing performance during the SwimSlow show. Perhaps that’s it – it’s in the way they do things (which translates so beautifully and profoundly on their work): self-assured, positive and playful, like a child’s spirit.
Perhaps this authentic character could be linked to Iceland’s almost sacred relationship with nature. One cannot miss this underlying theme as one peruses the many inspiring projects on show: an earnest search for Icelandic porcelain, hand-tufted rugs modelled on Iceland’s many volcanoes and mountains, and several works focusing solely on natural (and sustainable) materials found in the island. There’s a sense of humility and devotion, a sincere respect for nature. The theme for this year’s key event, DesignTalks – held at the majestic Harpa concert hall, designed by Olafur Eliasson and inspired by crystalline basalt columns found in the country; another grand tribute to Icelandic nature – is “Brut Nature”. By exploring our relationship with nature, with each other, and ourselves, “we set out to investigate if and how uncertainty may be reinforcing our quest for the pure, the authentic, the raw. For beauty – and perhaps ugliness too. How we increasingly seek to reconnect with nature and ourselves through heightened senses, sometimes controversially mediated through technology, while in other cases, through authentic experiences.”
As such, DesignMarch is the biggest design festival in the world (per capita) – well, it’s probably not the biggest in number, but it certainly has the biggest heart and character. Aside from the uniqueness of the projects on show, what makes it special is precisely its smallness. It is cozy and intimate; since everyone basically knows each other, you can get up close and personal with the designers, making it easy to get to know their process, inspirations and motivations. Unlike other design festivals where it can get a bit overwhelming and impersonal, here you immediately feel that you are at the heart of it.
The best of DesignMarch is the experience of being there itself: to savor it all, to witness brut nature, and to be part of this small family of brilliant and creative souls. In those four, intense days – packed with hotel parties, exhibition openings, studio visits, a dip at the dazzling Blue Lagoon and perhaps an adventurous sojourn to the mighty fjords, waterfalls and glaciers – you are truly one of them.
Presenting, a visual diary of these scintillating moments captured by my Iphone, fresh and unfiltered, just like Icelandic nature.
(Stay tuned for my DesignMarch favorites and interviews with designers! Coming soon…)