Love in the Making
Over ten years of works by The Icelandic Love Corporation (ILC) is gathered for its first retrospective exhibition. Although a decade is not a long time, ILC has already built up an international reputation, performing in cities such as Helsinki, Copenhagen, San Francisco, New York, Warsaw, and Tokyo. Yet The ILC remains a steadfast presence in Iceland and has become a distinctive voice in the practice of performance art. The ILC’s works are consistently receiving attention from the public, and gaining popularity among younger artists and art students. At the same time, the group retains an “underground” identity as its actions and objects do not yield to easy interpretation. The works of The ILC captivate their viewers with an ironic charm that is equal parts ingenuity and seduction. They harness the mundane and fleeting moments of our everyday lives and have made them brilliant and extraordinary.
It started in 1996 at the Icelandic College of Arts and Crafts when three young students found an unexplainable gratification from their first attempts in performance art. Eirún Sigurdardóttir (born 1971, Reykjavik), Jóni Jónsdóttir (born 1972, Akureyri), and Sigrún Hrólfsdóttir (born 1973, Reykjavik) were the initial members of the group. Dóra Ísleifsdóttir (born 1970, Luxembourg) joined them later in 1996 and left The ILC in the autumn of 2001. Previously none had considered performance art their main avenue of artistic expression. They were uncomfortable about employing their bodies and actions, and thought that performance art was a silly and pretentious way to make art. However, simple curiosity and the pursuit of a good laugh played into their decision to begin to perform for selected audiences of friends and peers.
The ILC’s first major public performance in 1996 took the form of a live televised promotion for a series of performance art programs to be held in the basement of the National Theatre in Reykjavik. The promotion was a special arrangement between the series organizers and producers at the national television station. Both parties had encountered difficulties in agreeing to the “right” kind of performance art to be aired. The ILC agreed to take on the challenge of negotiating with the television station on behalf of the organizers. The Kiss Performance was the resulting happening and catapulted the group into the public eye. The Kiss, described by the group as “a bit longer than a friend’s kiss but a bit shorter than a lover’s kiss,” was initiated between two of the group members and passed to the third by one of them. The last member who received the kiss, kissed the camera lens and the image of her pursed lips was transmitted to viewers across the nation during the broadcast of Dagsljós — a popular television program that aired immediately following the primetime evening news. The Kiss marked a new turning point in the history of performance art in Iceland. It was the first performance art piece to air in real time, showing the happening taking place in a real space.
The group was known to employ some unorthodox means to garner audiences and sustain their visibility. In the beginning of their career they for instance advertised in local newspapers, offering their services as art performers for special occasions, such as anniversaries, birthdays and other festive gatherings. Each hired performance gave the artists opportunities to refine their acts and discover their collective “signature.” Progressively, costumes, props and special-made objects also became fundamental elements in their actions.
Despite the seemingly accidental or casual nature of their early success, continued critical accolades gave proof of their ongoing commitment to developing and innovating performance art. In the beginning, The ILC just identified itself as Gjörningaklúbburinn (The Performance Club) but it soon became clear that the group needed a different name for audiences outside of Iceland. Shortly after they started to perform as a group in 1996, they agreed to use The Icelandic Love Corporation as well because the name underscored a collective identity, the creation of their works around the motif of love while at the same time “generating” their output under the guise of a business concern.
From the outset, the artists were known to wear white knee-length coats over their mini red dresses during their performances. The coats were similar to the ones worn by medical professionals, or alternatively, salespersons for cosmetics products. It was a distinct dress code of The ILC’s for a while when it delivered wonderfully captivating happenings. Among them was Autopsy (1996), a for-hired performance for a birthday party when the artists cut up the actual birthday cake with the purposefulness of a pathologist. The title of the performance and its clinical address of an object of fun and celebration — the cake — suggested the arbitrary-seeming nature of cultural rites and rituals, which reexamined, may appear newly odd or amusing. On another occasion, the group, still in its white lab coats, performed Blow Job (1997) at the Living Art Museum, Reykjavik with a gigantic lipstick encased in a shell of hard ice, which the artists proceeded to melt with hair driers.
For in Higher Beings (1999), The ILC premiered their golden spandex gowns and walked the streets of the Red-light district in Amsterdam, offering celebratory libations to passers-by. On a different note, The ILC argued with the clichéd ideas of safety and security in Hope (1999) and again in Where Do We Go From Here? (2001) — all dressed in hooded-robes made from thick white comforters.
As much as The ILC adorned its outward appearances, the group also deployed an ornate expressive language in its text. Writing played an important role in the development of The ILC’s works. An ambivalent tone held the tales together with a fragile thread like the single skein of a spider’s web. While the writing of The ILC evoked fragmented images, the images crystallized in the minds while watching The ILC performing the acts and handling the objects. In the case of Where Do We Go From Here? (2001), uneasiness was invoked when the written words were belted out in a chorus hinged on to a shaky melody of an Icelandic lullaby. The ILC sang the words in an uncertain tone that contrasted with the cozy image offered by the women, warmly and protectively wrapped in their comforter cocoons.
The sculptural objects by The ILC are often transformed from common objects that have regular and specific functions. The group has taken shoes, gloves, vests and a coffin among other things and stripped off their familiar roles as ordinary stuff. These objects, either used in performances or simply presented as sculptures, are carefully refashioned. The ILC often gives pristine looks to these sculptural objects. For instance the group had applied a sparkling white look to all the items in the installation Places of Worship (2001). Objects such as Party Life Jacket, Headphone, or Without You were altered to amplify a sense of rebirth, and at the same time they were unrecognized as things and situations we encounter everyday.
Into the first year of its second decade, The ILC continues its bold experiments and collaborations with artists, architects, and professionals from other fields such as fire fighters, engineers, and others. While The ILC’s groundbreaking performances are fleeting experiences, the Reykjavik Art Museum hopes to rekindle their spirit for the visitors through this imaginative presentation of its installations, sculptures, photographs, drawings, videos and short films, and animations. It is as close an approximation as can be made toward fulfilling The ILC’s desire to “shake hands with your fantasy.”
Yean Fee Quay, Curator
Reykjavik Art Museum