We stopped by Líber, on a cheerful Saturday to visit artist and designer Íris Eggertsdóttir in her whimsical and interesting store on Hverfisgata 101 Reykjavík. The clothes sold there are handcrafted, with a strong vision of design, where no items are identical. She works with textiles, and her interest in fabrics and using them to create sprung from her early age. We wanted to know more, and arranged a visit which was as fascinating , surprising and explosive as the window showcasing her work to the outside world.
When did you start thinking about materials and designing?
Well, my mother is a tailor and a designer, and worked for many years for Karnabær and then later 66° north. And yes at the National Theater as a costume designer. I never planed on following in her footsteps. When I was little, I was constantly sewing and designing. I even had a whole room where I could play with materials, fabrics and a huge tailoring table (sníðaborð – veistu hvernig þetta er á ensku? Held að það sé´bara sett tailoring table) with sewing machines and so on.
I then decided to study art, and I had a very strong agenda, on not becoming a fashion designer. I studied abroad, in England. Then when I got pregnant I wanted to move back to Iceland so I finished my studies at the Icelandic Academy of the Arts. For my final project I created three pieces that individuals could dress themselves into, i.e. one could interact with the pieces. I use textiles in my art, so somehow textiles have always had some connection to what I do. I have for example always sewn for myself and then my friends, so I decided to try it out professionally.
So, how do you label yourself? (Do you like labels?)
I can straight out, tell you what I am. I am an idea builder.
What, how would you translate that to English?
Personal idea director? Laughs.
As soon as you find the words in English, they mean something totally different. Like Idealist, conceptual designer, not necessarily an artist though … you know. Conceptual designer, I don’t really know. Well, now I am going to obsess about this! Well no, builder of ideas. Or idea builder. Yes, that is what I am.
I remember you from before, when you were running your own store KVK, what can you tell me about that?
Yes, I was running KVK store with my friend Kolbrún for a long time. We had a great relationship actually and it went very well. I am very unorganized and she is very organized. We were running the store for almost five years, and we were a little alike in many ways actually. So at the end of this period we decided to work separately. Well actually it felt like we were divorcing.
Really, how so?
We had been together day and night, all the time and it was so weird all of the sudden not to be together. We had been together in building up something, that many people don’t fully understand, receiving comments from customers, and putting everything on the line for what we believed in. But you learn so much from it and this was a wonderful time, to jump into the deep end by running a store that sold our creations.
After all this, Kolbrún decided to study fashion design in Barcelona, and I learned how to be organized and independent. But yeah, the feeling is similar to when an artist finishes his or her piece; there is a certain kind of emptiness that you have to deal with when something is finished. Because when you are an artist, it´s not anything that you can turn off and on. You are constantly working, in a way. So when the closure comes, you feel a little lost for some time afterward. I cherish this time we had with KVK deeply.
And then the Líber store, your store, came along?
Yes, this was originally intended to be my workspace, and I was thinking about selling my artwork in other stores. I thought about it a lot actually. A year ago, I decided to alter the front space into a store. And that process, of opening up a store, is a total new beginning as well.
But then we have this battlefield of road construction just outside? The whole street is like an open gap, how do you think that affects your store?
Yes, this is a huge issue actually, for everyone that runs a business here. Especially this time of year, September – December, the prime time for a store like mine. It surely has an impact on what I am trying to do here, to start a new store with my own work.
On to other things, what inspires you?
Wow, that is a huge question. For example, when I am walking around the city, I look at forms. There are many Indian patterns in the city landscape for example, zik- zak lines, triangles and so on if you look at the streets, walkways are for example striped and there are so many interesting things happening in the outside space, really. The streets signs are also very interesting.
But I get ideas from all over. But I have to mention one thing. Pinterest! You can zone out, and look at things and pictures for hours and hours. I get very inspired by this visual online database, I must say!
And the sky. This is why I really like tie dying. There is something that happens when you experiment with this method. I really like that using this method you do not known what the final outcome will be. This is probably why I have never applied for the artistic grant!
So, do you think the grants are somehow too “boxed in” in this regard?
Yes, somehow you are always hired to deliver something that is already defined. That is a huge defect in my opinion. This is something that needed to change a long time ago, because we need to blend these things much more. We need various people in order create the entire spectrum. We need to have all the sides of the story. Because at the end of the day, you should always stand up for what you believe.
So, what do you sell in your store?
My ideology in making clothes is that they should be comfortable, but stylish. It should be about feeling good. I work with forms and colors. I am currently working with my lovely co-worker who is here now, Magga Einars. We are crocheting pieces together, sweaters that are both open or closed and vests. I really enjoy that people come in to my store, and find something’s fashionable for every body shape and form. Men also shop here, since I am doing scarfs and trousers and so on.
Isn’t it hard to make trousers?
I once was into the business on making skinny jeans and such. But now I make everything in two sizes, and everything is loose and comfortable. Every piece is handcrafted and unique and that is what people really like. And how long the pieces last. That is very nice.
I see here in our store window, these amazing masks. What can you tell me about them?
I have always been super excited about masks, actually. I have always been thinking about what we as people do, externally, and how we behave. And, yes, I don’t think that we are defined fully on „who we are“ because we are some many things at once.
How can I explain this, like when we go to the bank, we put on the bank mask, and when you are at home, you have another mask. And coming to the point about the masks you saw in my window, I worked with Facebook statuses, they inspired me in making different masks, art works inspired by what I read from different people on there. They can be controversial, sad, joyful and everything in-between. So I made a mask once a week to one status, over a period of one year. And the final piece is still evolving!
My husband is a photographer, and we connect so well, and we have a great level of trust between us. His name is Jón Páll Eyjólfsson. Well, I chose to work with him on this project because in some way he also understands what I am doing. So the project, which is still in the making, will be a photo book, where we showcase both the texts and the masks which are my artistic representation off what people are feeling and expressing in their texts. I am constantly working in the current, or addressing current times that is, through my artwork as well.
Have you ever felt that people misunderstand what you are doing?
Well, not exactly. They sometimes maybe feel sorry for me, they ask me questions like „how are you doing, is it working out for you being an artist? “ But in my opinion, I think artists are the strongest people out there. They can make something out of nothing, and they can live on nothing, making their art. That is truly inspiring.
To something related to this, how do you feel about the governments huge budget cuts towards the arts?
Well, if they think that art magically appears, they are wrong. All fields of society should work together. I think that in the school system, we need to respect the art education on the same level as we respect practical studies. The focus should be on celebrating ideas, and artistic approaches.
The politicians here can shovel money to the fishing industry, or may I rephrase this sentence, they can basically give them money, but at the same time they chose to disrespect the professional fields of arts. But hey, then we can close down the museums, the cinemas, the designer stores and so many other things! But if you are an artist, you need to be patient and to have a certain sense of humor for yourself.
So, they don’t understand the values of arts?
As I see it, people really like to categorize things and not afraid or un-willing to criticize things. The key factor is not to pin point this and that which is unneeded; we need all of these elements. We need a good healthcare system, we need the agriculture, we need the fishing industry, and we need the arts. We should not look at any of the elements with a unfavorable attitude, but work on building respect between different areas of our society.
Each and every one chooses what he or she does. We should respect that choice. Everything and every kind of choice. This is what I was discussing before; we need to have a broader spectrum. This is why we should rather elect people, not parties!
Many people that buy art, do so by their own taste, and then they sometimes go deeper than that. My world is always sprung from my perceptions, and something that I connect to and what I understand. Others maybe connect in some completely different way. But what I like most is when people talk to me about my work. Then I get many different kinds of ideas, and this interactivity has an effect on how I write about my works.
So the discussion is very important?
Yes, of course. Like the masks, now we both have our interview masks on. This applies also to for example, societies that still actively use masks in their culture or rituals. But we always have the invisible mask on, in everything we do. We have all these unwritten rules, about how we behave in general.
So, what does the future bring?
That I can live on my artwork, and that I don’t have to worry each month about paying my bills. I really like what I do. I really enjoy talking to my clients and yes so to sum it up, my dream is to be creative and enjoy life!
We thank Íris very much for the interview, and we hope to see much more of her work, ideas and artistic pieces in the future.