“Attunement”: Iceland at Virtual Design Destination 2020

“…designers and artists have an important role to play, whether that is by adopting more sustainable ways of working, or speculating about and through technology, or creating critical futures to facilitate today’s decision making.”

– Hlín Helga Guðlaugsdóttir & María Kristín Jónsdóttir, curators of the Icelandic collection, “Attunement”

“Attunement” is part of the Virtual Design Destination presented by Adorno at London Design Festival, 12 – 20 September 2020. Join us for a tour of the virtual environment and collection with curators Hlín Helga Guðlaugsdóttir & María Kristín Jónsdóttir in conversation with Kristen de la Vallière of @sayhito_ on Monday, 14 September at 10:00 AM BST. “Attunement” is kindly supported by the ÍSLANDSSTOFA & Nordic Culture Point.

From the water and the ice, we encounter objects – floating, hanging, resting on ice floes – amidst the glacier setting. The sounds of waves, cracking ice, and dripping water draw our attention to what is missing, or what will be missing. We become attuned to the issues pervading the Arctic: climate change, rising sea levels, and resource depletion, among others. We also become attuned to the ways that makers, through design, are moving forward, seeking new and innovative approaches to creation and playing an important role in a more sustainable future. As seen in this collection and within the contemporary Icelandic design scene, there is hope and a strong desire to work towards this new reality.

Through a wide range of work, the Icelandic collection “Attunement” explores the possibilities of and connections between sustainability, technology, and humanity. Curators Hlín Helga Guðlaugsdóttir and María Kristín Jónsdóttir present the “new reality” as an opportunity for reinvention, engaging six makers who are in tune with the needs of the Icelandic design scene as well as the larger world.⁠ These designers experiments with alternative materials (as in Valdís Steinarsdóttir’s “Just Bones”), make use of unused or forgotten objects (as in Studíó Flétta’s “Trophy” series and Ýr Jóhannsdóttir’s “Op.3”), and draw attention to the issue of local resource depletion (as in Björn Steinar Blumenstein’s “Skógarnytjar” series). Others explore the digital, experimenting with light, time, and technology (as in Halldór Eldjárn’s “Inorganic Garden”) and approaching issues of technology and humanity (as in Digital Sigga’s work).

“Attunement” features designers Björn Steinar Blumenstein, Digital Sigga, Halldór Eldjárn, Studíó Flétta, Valdís Steinarsdóttir, and Ýr Jóhannsdóttir.


What are the main themes presented across the works in this collection?

Disregarded natural resources, up-cycling, technology, and humanity.

Halldór Eldjárn, “The Plant Printer”

Why have you chosen a scenography inspired by melting glaciers for this collection?

It is such a palpable manifestation of the climate crisis, allowing us to become attuned to earth’s very own heartbeat, hence the title of the collection “Attunement”. There are about 300 glaciers in Iceland. All of them melting at a high speed now and some even disappearing, like the OK Glacier whose “funeral” took place last summer. It was organised by activists, with acclaimed Icelandic writer Andri Snær Magnason writing a “Letter to the Future” on the commemorating plaque. It was the first glacier to disappear as a result of climate change, according to scientists. Former Irish president Mary Robinson said that “the symbolic death of a glacier is a warning to us, and we need action”. Anthropologist Cymene Howe of Rice University in Houston said it was the first monument to a glacier lost to climate change anywhere in the world in a statement on the occasion: “By marking OK’s passing, we hope to draw attention to what is being lost as Earth’s glaciers expire”.

Then, on an even larger scale, there is the Arctic ice cap melting at an unprecedented speed. According to some scientists, the Greenland Ice Sheet is losing 500 gigatons of ice each year and may have gone beyond the point of no return. Now, in September, is the moment where the Arctic sea ice reaches its smallest extent, at the end of the summer season. So this is all very real and we need to act accordingly. All the habitants of the earth – for the future.

Sustainability and how we approach the use of natural resources seems to be a theme which is tightly intertwined into the Icelandic design scene, as it is in “Attunement”. With this in mind, what do you envision audiences taking away from this collection?

We hope that people will feel inspired by the designers and artists we have chosen for their valuable contributions in leading the way forward and questioning our choice of paths.

Valdís Steinarsdóttir, “Just Bones”

“Attunement” has the intriguing quality of including digital art by artist Digital Sigga. Can you describe why you chose this approach/piece and how it has worked alongside the other pieces in this collection?

We felt that her take on the digital self – the digital reality, so to speak – gender, body politics, and objectification in relation to the fashion industry and social media was the perfect [connection] between technology and humanity in this new reality. So is Halldór Eldjárn’s AI piece “Inorganic Garden”. Where are we heading with technology and nature? What is our existence without nature?

Digital Sigga, “Second Self”

With reference to the Virtual Design Destination’s theme, how does this collection respond to the so-called “New Reality”?

In this New Reality, there is still a very real ongoing climate crisis and we [have] to figure out how this next decade can be a regenerative one. In there, designers and artists have an important role to play, whether that is by adopting more sustainable ways of working, or speculating about and through technology, or creating critical futures to facilitate today’s decision making.

Ýr Jóhannsdóttir, “Op.3”

Has your approach to the curation of this collection been affected by the ongoing uncertainty in the world? Why or why not?

Yes, under these circumstances it becomes very clear what matters the most and also, I feel, that we need hope. We need to figure out ways to move forward, to do the right thing. There is no planet B – and we’re all in this together.

Meet Hlín Helga Guðlaugsdóttir & María Kristín Jónsdóttir

Hlín Helga is an independent curator, designer, and design-thinking consultant who has spent a decade involved in education and research at universities around the world. Her work focuses on facilitating, initiating, and leading dialogues and interdisciplinary collaborations for meaningful innovation through design. She is a fellow of the digital futures think-tank W.I.R.E.

María Kristín is an Icelandic product designer and the head designer for STAKA. She has a keen passion for her cultural heritage and draws inspiration from nature, its forces, shapes, and structures. She is the Editor-in-chief of HA – a magazine on Icelandic design and architecture that provides a forum for critical discussion on the cultural landscape. Also, as a curator, creative director, and designer, her work has been covered in various Icelandic and international publications, including Fast Co Design, The Coolhunting, and The Reykjavik Grapevine. Maria Kristin holds a B.A. in Product Design from The Iceland Academy of the Arts and studied Ethics and Philosophy at the University of Iceland and Goldsmithing at the Technical College Reykjavik. She currently lives and works in Reykjavik, Iceland.

Which aspects of curating a collection for a virtual exhibition have intrigued and/or surprised you?

Perhaps how little of a difference it was, really, in the end. A sort of a “natural” next thing to do! Which, in turn, is most likely an offspring of our times too, this accelerated blending of spheres – or realities.

What are you most excited to share (ex. thematically, a piece, a designer, etc.) with the Virtual Design Destination audience?

The collection is one combined outstanding work from many of our most promising young designers and artists that come from a variety of backgrounds, which I think gives the collection it’s little extra spark. One of the designers, for example, Valdís Steinarsdóttir just received the Swedish Formex Awards for 2019 for design “that focuses on material experiments and finding unique solutions to social and environmental issues”.

In general, I’m excited to see if people connect and “tune in”. It will be exciting to hear about the audiences’ reactions in general to the format and if Adorno manages to come up with a way for exhibitions to move forward!

“Attunement” is kindly supported by:


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