Armed with Oblivion

By Aleksandra Mir.  SIKSI—The Nordic Art Review, Stockholm, #3-4, 1998.



Feelings! To have a tent, is that freedom to travel?
Is a big lipstick better than a small lipstick?
What is big and what is small?
What is good and what is bad?
Is it necessary to wonder about this all the time?
When will the mayonnaise turn yellow?

The Icelandic Love Corporation, 1997

Little has been written about them, but the rumors are plenty. My favorite claims; they are not even human, but elves; descendants of the dirty, unwashed children of Adam and Eve, hidden away when God came to visit. Their fate is to forever hide from mankind, yet live in close proximity to it. No wonder that some people even complain that these are not artists but mere phenomena.

So here's to The Nordic Miracle: The Icelandic Love Corporation. Only two years in business and already an unavoidable presence on the scene; eclipsing not only curatorial predictions, but also rendering quite an accurate picture of what a Nordic passport may bring, A working collective of four, they plan and debate over e-mail, get together for gigs, but all live in different cities: Sigrun Hrolfsdottir who followed her filmmaker boyfriend to New York keeps afloat as a waitress; Joni Jonsdottir and Eirun Sigurdardottir are artstudents, at the Royal Academy of Art in Copenhagen and the Hochschule f¸r bildende K¸nste in Berlin, respectively; Dora Isleifsdottir leads an adult married life, holding a lucrative advertising position in their hometown of Reykjavik. She also does the graphic design for their ads.

These are modern women shopping freely in the art-historical supermarket, furnishing their world without asking too many questions about where those wonderful inventions—performance, installation and video art—originally came from and why. Avoiding the trappings of old masterly schemes such as the 'dematerialization of the object of art' paradoxically saves them from reinventing the wheel. For what runs the obvious risk of dematerializing itself here, is not some thing in a space, but being Female; Icelandic; Artists. And as for the normalizing terror of 'everyday life'—forget it—the I.L.C. have descended on Earth to let loose and PARTY!

The recent invective about reshuffling former peripheries in to new global centers of culture is a futile exercise when it comes to Iceland. It's too small (260 000 people), too homogenic and too faraway from everything else. But that's OK, quite frankly. As always, the benefit of reporting back to a place with a low population count is that the significance of one's voice becomes amplified and woven into the general fabric of culture at a much higher speed than in any metropole. The I.L.C., fresh as they are, are no strangers to National TV, where their art performances are occasionally featured—as filler entertainment. Kiss, their very first public appearance, aired prime time, just ahead of the news, as they kissed each other "a bit longer than friends normally would, and a bit shorter than lovers do". Easily dismissable, but equally fierce, it makes for a curious little makeshift affair, the relationship these artists have with their media/nation.

From the start, The I.L.C. have graciously managed to pull off all kinds of self promoting opportunities, using the gap between critical inquiry and neutralized representation as in themselves valid arenas for action. The promotional video, The Icelandic Love Corporation, has the camera panning the lava-clad landscape while our heroines tread the dirt roads and cast literati-style gazes across endless waters. A soft-spoken male voice-over narrates the tale of how they all met: "In the Printmaking Department of the Icelandic College of Arts and Crafts". But the picturesque quickly segues into the imbecilic as they cheer at erupting geysers, clap enthusiastically at waterfalls. In this they take over where the master of inverted infantilism, Bj–rk, more or less left us—enchanted.

In February '96, the I.L.C. placed an ad in the local newspaper offering their professional services as "party performers" for any occasion; birthdays, christenings and other festivities. Aside from the predictable sex-related offers which they courteously declined, several concrete works emerged from this campaign. For a highly memorable garden party, they dressed up in camouflage, and in a surprise attack ambushed the guests, leaping out of nearby bushes. Brutally commanding everyone to clear off the grass, they violently proceeded to plant seeds, shooting them out of BB guns and watering with water-filled plastic machine arms. Finishing up the act by patting the soil carefully, they then dismantled their arms and retreated to the bushes. With the productive powers of commemoration, marking the host's 30th birthday, they simply got "the Vietnam war mixed up with the Hippies".

On another occasion, the Birthday celebration as a rite of consumption and inevitable decay became the source for literal investigation. Autopsy is the clinical dissemination of the actual birthday cake, performed at a huge gala, celebrating the 25th anniversary of four young men turning 100 together. Doctor's smocks were introduced here for the first time and have since become an I.L.C. staple. A practical outfit with which they can assign themselves an endless array of tasks; pushing inquiry ahead of emotion, achieving results. But if frivolity is suddenly called for, they have it all so well set up that they easily revert to the regular girlie wear costumes and can exercise traditional female gestures: a case scenario being the task of figuring out how best to simultaneously piss and dance (Disklo, a series of poses for the clean toilet).

Nudity has also played a significant role in their careers. Especially a video segment from Freedom, Beauty, Freetime that a TV-editor picked to broadcast to the nation, Originally a piece they did for themselves and for the camera at Reykjavik's Living Art Museum last June, it tested both the collective's trust and was a trial of physical endurance. In typical progression, each stripped down, layed on a table, and was covered from head to toe respectively in cream, marzipan, chocolate and mayonnaise. Each 'cake' was then beautifully topped off with pretty decorations and laid to rest for a while—before the painstaking clean-up process began, "When they put the chocolate on me. I felt very cold at first, but then when I was being decorated, it was almost burning!". Wouldn't we all want to try...

More foodstuff: Ice, the most tired of metaphors, applied to any cultural garbage that can fit into a freezer, has in several of their works been instantly revitalized as a national cliche. If anything, is there ice on Iceland or what? And what better way to confront the issues at stake than with the handiest tools around: blow dryers. Blow Job, a piece they've performed on several occasions, effectively conflates national and gendered economies: a large (cosmetic store prop) lipstick is examined while defrosting. That lipstick (prop) has since become an object of endless scrutiny, "What is the difference between a big and a small lipstick?" they ask. Well, try boarding a plane with a 4ft lipstick and you'll find something out about the norms that surround civil (dis)obedience in transit. "It always gets stuck in the X-ray machine. The guards think its a weapon and examine it extra carefully, but then they just laugh".

The World is Good. Is the world so good? Not really, but again, necessary to investigate. This day-long excursion involved a drive to the country in the morning and a return to the city at night. In and out of innocence so to speak, through a reversed rite of passage. It began with a cuddly session of petting the lambs at a sheep-farm, and went via the supermarket in town, a visit to the meatdepartment, recipe hunting and the final toast by candlelight at a set table for four and a lavish leg of lamb grillfeast. It's funny to see how such loser terminologies as 'abject' and lack' do not easily attach themselves to their enthusiasm. For all these frivolous projects immediately serve to rebuild the constitution of all our disillusioned morale, rather swinging the opposite way. So that the failures of the I.L.C. are nothing but everybody else's failures. While the "Love" in their name stands for the fact that they love you (anyway), even if you don't love them back. Try thinking of a better winner strategy if you can.

During the opening ceremonies at Momentum, the new Nordic Biennial in Moss, involving the civic and corporate leaders of the town, the I.L.C. were invited to "say a word for the artists". Following a whole string of speakers, they delivered a perfectly legitimate parody of the pomp in which public officials justify money spent on artistic events to other public officials. One read A Fresh Start, their 'manifesto', which ended "...Everyone would probably like to push everything aside and do what they think is fun." While in the foreground, the rest of the crew struck cheerleader poses. Each performing a handstand, assisted by two others, dutifully holding up the legs, but letting the skirt flip over, exposing strained pantyhosed crotches to public ridicule. And for a second revealing an alarming glitch in female solidarity. But, hey, not to worry. Next thing, they are good friends again.

It never gets cruder than this, no dirty words, no anger, no actual sex hence the lame Spice Girl comparisons. While it's inevitable that the world-famous girlgroup serves them as a resource and inspiration,at a second glance, their own lighthearted camaraderie, though childproof, has less the structure of a rainbow coalition than that of real flesh and bones. Performing in one set of uniformed dresses, their individual bodies reveal awkward adjustment to the unstretchable nylon fabric: Dora is the sturdy one, Joni is tall, Eirun is short and Sigrun is the tits'n'ass...And at the end of each performance, something remarkable always happens: they catch each others eye, exchange conspiratorial looks and crack up all this still in the public view, granting the observant audience a little take-home bonus.

That's how I first met them. As one of the participating biennial artists, I was honored, to say the least, having been spoken for in such an insightful way.

And the girls keep moving. Loaded with all manner of plastic chotchkas, astro turf, mannequins, bubbles and babies they may suddenly occupy a whole lot of space.And for that extra dose of appeal, introduce a monitor, throw in a seemingly unrelated video, and after a brief moment on 'stage', walk off, letting it all stand for the reminder of a show. These purposefully additive, misconceptual 'installations'then become the dancings on the grave of an art form that has enjoyed celebratory status too long. They are also pure acts of territorial pissing. Which is fair, considering the frailty of their fleeting energy which hardly any 'show' can possibly encompass. For what serves them best, are the junctions between reserved spaces, in which they always seem to surprise. So while most observers are still struck by an attentive ambivalence towards them, take this for a fact their VooDoo is working.

Where will the I.L.C. be in ten years? "Oh, we will probably all have children by then. It's not going to be sad for us, but probably for others". That's that, for now. Rumor has it, that these Hello Kitties are soon to be conquering Japan.

Aleksandra Mir is an artist living in New York.

This article was published originally in SIKSI—The Nordic Art Review, Stockholm, #3-4, 1998.
Translated to German, reprinted, in: 'Icelandic Love Corp', Get Together, Kunst als teamwork, Ed. Paolo Bianchi, Kunsthalle Wien. 1999.
'Icelandic Love Corporation', Kunstforum International, Berlin, Bd. # 152, XXXX.

http://www.ilc.is