An exclusive book about the wonderful work of emerging Icelandic designer Brynjar Sigurðarson, and his encounter with anthropologist Tim Ingold. The book is edited by design researcher Sophie Krier, published by Dutch project space Onomatopee, and designed by ÉricandMarie, a graphic designer duo from Paris.
Included in this book are a conversation with anthropologist Tim Ingold on the origin of things, as well as a 12-inch vinyl for which Sigurðarson has collected, recorded, and mixed stories on musical soundscapes. A selection of previously unpublished drawings and writings will thrill amateurs of hand-made details, myths, darkness, isolation, micro-history, memory, stones, animals, and the supernatural.
Instinctively bridging the fields of design and anthropology, industrial manufacturing and craftsmanship, Brynjar Sigurðarson has built a rich body of work over the past five years. His way of working can perhaps best be compared to the attitude of a hunter on a constant lookout for the unusual, becoming one with the very world he’s studying.
The book is the third publication of an on-going research entitled Field Essays, which explores the tactile world of design thinking and making, and was initiated by Sophie Krier in 2008. Next to periodical books, Field Essays takes the form of exhibitions, debates and educational workshops.
Coffee Table, Silent Village Collection, Brynjar Sigurðarson, Galerie kréo, 2014
Borgbor Sveinsson Bullfish, documentary, Brynjar Sigurðarson, collection MAK Vienna, 2012
Brynjar Sigurðarson (IS) works between Berlin and Lausanne, where he teaches Design research at the Masters department of École Cantonale d’Art de Lausanne (ECAL) since 2011. Sigurðarson received the Grand Prix Design Parade 6 at Villa Noailles (FR) in 2012. He has exhibited and lectured internationally, among others at Design Indaba (RSA), Sandberg Instituut (NL) and MAK Vienna (AT). Commissioners include porcelain manufacturer Sèvres (FR), glass research centre CIRVA (FR), Camper (ES), Spark Design Space (IS) and Galerie kréo (FR). www.biano.is
Brynjar Sigurðarson, photography Sebastian Ziegler
Tim Ingold (UK) is currently Chair of Social Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen, where he directs the research project Knowing from the Inside. He writes and teaches on issues on the interface between anthropology, archaeology, art and architecture. Books by his hand include Lines: A Brief History (2007), Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description (2011) and Making: anthropology, archaeology, art and architecture (2013). www.abdn.ac.uk
Tim Ingold, MUSARC, London Metropolitan University © Photo Joseph Kohlmaier
INTERVIEW WITH SOPHIE KRIER
What is Field Essays about? What are you trying to find out with this research?
What I try to find out is what happens inside a design process: what does a designer do, what kind of choices does he or she make, and what do these choices mean for design practice? That’s really what drives me – to find something, in the practice of a designer, that could be a precursor of another way of practicing design. I then start a conversation around that in order to deepen our understanding of design.
Dialogue is an essential element of Field Essays. With each publication, I match a designer whose work intrigues me with an artist, thinker or scientist in order to articulate a new, meaningful viewpoint on design.
How did you find out about Brynjar's work?
I happened to be in Reykjavik, on invitation of the Iceland Academy of the Arts, both times around January – the darkest month of the year. Which reminds me of one of the things, which Brynjar often talks about: “In the darkness, you don't see - and you start to imagine things.” According to Brynjar, the climate of a place partly determines the culture and the uses of it. Perhaps due to the dramatic, and even explosive landscape, there seems to be a certain playfulness or wildness in Icelandic culture, which I really appreciate. Their design approach is craft and technology based, and at the same time very experimental.
I found out about Brynjar through one of the teachers, Brynhildur Pálsdóttir. She told me about a gallery, Spark Design Space, that had an exhibition on by Brynjar called "Priks". The show consisted basically just of sticks, of more or less the size of a person. They were leaning against the wall, and were decorated with intricate handmade fishing details. They looked like fishing sticks, but they clearly weren’t. It’s hard to describe… I see this ambiguity in Brynjar's objects as a quality - his designs question us on their function, and on their possibilities.
Sticks, Brynjar Sigurðarson, Spark Design Space, 2011
Why did you invite Tim Ingold to be the second protagonist of the book?
Tim's writings are very related to design: he is known for his ideas on thinking through making, on the interdependence of all things, and on inhabiting the world as living beings. Currently he researches design practice as a possible way of doing anthropology. On the other hand, Brynjar's work could be considered anthropological in the way he draws on places, materials and memories, and assembles them intuitively into new objects, with new stories. The following sentence, in which he describes how he conceived the family of objects Silent Village Collection, illustrates his approach: “I’m almost starting to work with the memory. The memory of being there.” It was hence obvious that these two persons had to meet and discuss - the encounter was to say the least special. It's all put out in the book.
"Anthropologists are scientists in culture. They study people and behaviours, and societies, and we [designers] are an integral part of a culture: everything we do we place in some sort of a culture. So I think it's really valid for us to start to look at them."
"One of the things we want to do here [in the department of Social Anthropology] is to get back to the stuff, and to look at the ways in which materials come together in different sorts of ways, and what that can tell us in itself – without having to extrapolate somewhere else to find the meanings. It's to say that the meanings are there. And once you recognize that, then you begin to think that there might be other ways to do anthropology than writing texts about the meanings of things. And that's why we came up with this idea of anthropology by means of design."
First meeting with Tim Ingold and his team of social anthropologists on the campus of Aberdeen University, April 2014
How did the book come about?
Through many conversations, a workshop, a couple of work sessions, lots of drawing and writing, and even more editorial meetings!
I first spoke to Brynjar on the phone in 2013. I could already feel his personality by listening to his voice. He has a strong, sincere way of being: he doesn’t try to be anyone else than who he is. About a year later, I invited him to do a workshop at Studio for Immediate Spaces (Sandberg Instituut, Amsterdam). The workshop was called Animal State, and the brief was to build an interior for an imaginary animal. The experience was difficult, but in the end it was a good workshop. We all learnt a lot. For instance we found out that awkward moments can be very good and even necessary, in a design process.
Field Essays workshop Animal State, Brynjar Sigurðarson & Sophie Krier, 2014
We then spent some time together at my studio in Rotterdam, to really get to know his work. Brynjar is a manic collector of things. He has a considerable amount of images of all this. We printed all of them. That gave us a nice pile of images to look at, play with, and talk about.
Working on possible visual sequences, Rotterdam, March 2014
One of the things we found out is that what designers tend to consider as ‘preliminary’ drawings or 'final' objects are the same, to Brynjar. They are just things. So a work like High Shelf is at the same level as one of the photos from his on-going image archive.
High Shelf, Silent Village Collection, Brynjar Sigurðarson, Galerie kréo, 2014
The fact that Brynjar doesn’t hierarchize things is very interesting in terms of process. Because a lot of people see design as a linear story: first you have your research, then you do your drawings and sketches, then you work on a prototype, and then you have the product. In Brynjar’s work everything feeds everything. Like in an ecosystem.
Stones, Brynjar Sigurðarson, Manufacture de Sèvres, 2012
How is the book going to be?
It’s going to be… Big! And square. It measures thirty by thirty centimeters. It's a book but it's also a vinyl, so Brynjar calls it the VINYL BOOK.
The book presents all facets of Brynjar's work as well as the conversation we had with Tim Ingold, about "meeting as humans", "learning from the stuff around us", "bringing things together", "not closing things off", "challenging the origin of things", "making things work", "getting caught up with things", and so on.
The book is in essence a book of images, designed to the smallest detail by ÉricandMarie. The main thing about it is to show the way, in which Brynjar works. It’s not trying to be a full monograph. It’s more like a cross section of Brynjar’s work, and an illustration of the way all the different elements of his process – drawings, photographs, objects, to do lists, writings etcetera – are continuously interacting. He’s always making new associations; it’s a beautiful cyclical process.
The vinyl that goes with the book has stories on it, which have been collected and recorded by Brynjar: terrifying stories of sharks, exploding whales, and so on… He composed music to go with the stories, and one of his drawings will illustrate the vinyl. It’s a unique object.
First graphic design sketches by ÉricandMarie, 2014