Unconditional Love

(and the Corporate Stance)

Francis McKee

‘I believe in love and I know you do too’

Nick Cave, ‘Into My Arms’

    It’s that simple. In a cynical, corrupt era the Icelandic Love Corporation stand fast in their belief that love redeems us all. This is adhered to without irony and in the full knowledge of the potential brutality of the human race. That’s not to say they are serious about all this.Their work is fueled by champagne, a natural capacity for mayhem and a devout respect for Dolly Parton.

    From the beginning, their performances have been marked by an irreverence for the

traditional gravity of the art form and an unusual and touching affection for their

audience. It’s as if they really want to communicate. In the work that brought them to

national attention in Iceland they kissed each other live on television before one of them

pressed her lips to the screen and kissed the entire nation.

A period of pseudo-scientific investigation followed in which the Love Corporation,

dressed in white lab coats, variously iced each other as cakes, thawed out a giant lipstick

with hairdryers in Blow Job, amputated an angel’s wings and clinically traced a lamb’s

fate from farm to dinner table. These performances and videos were paralleled by a

series of exhibitions in which the Corporation persuaded everyday artefacts to stretch

their ontological ambitions. Leather chairs from the Gerduberg Cultural Centre blossomed

into sado-masochistic fantasies, sprouting spiky harnesses and hyper feminine flounces. A

tent found itself populated by inflatable porno people, happily engaged in a small

barbecue amid a landscape of synthetic grass and stuffed birds. Outside the gallery, girl

scouts raised and lowered Love Corporation flags while a dj spun brass band tunes and

the crowd waved mini-flags to the beats. On the rooftop, the Love Corp themselves

broadcast to the city of Reykjavik by megaphone, screaming ‘LOVE CONQUERS ALL!


    This first wave of intense activity probably peaked when they all gave birth orally to tiny tattooed clones in 1998. The exhibition was called A Fresh Start and in a way, it was, because shortly afterwards the Love Corporation ascended to the status of Higher Beings and made their first appearance as such in Amsterdam’s red light district. There, in shimmering dresses and golden shoes, they drilled and mounted six metal plaques (In Memory of Feelings Felt) commemorating the wide, wild spectrum of emotions to be found in the strip clubs and side streets of the district. In a series of performances they christened the plaques with

champagne and distributed vaginal shaped red cakes to passers by. The Higher Beings

employed spectacle to remind their audience that it is possible to cope with difficult

situations and to transform attitudes to life. In a poem accompanying the work they write:

We are all higher beings

We are situated in an adventure where everything is real.

Do you feel bad? You can change that.

Are you sour? You can be sweet.

Are you happy? You can be even happier …

Here we have four hearts.

Place yourselves on their outlines.

We will give you the stars.

Fill this thin line with hope and power.

Higher Beings will bring you the light.

Give each other the light.

You are beautiful.

This is a wishing moment.

We are joined in the power of a wish.

Close your eyes and wish.

    Assessing the context of the performances after the event they also noted that:

The combination of the neighborhood’s population intensified the performances,

both their subject and purpose. We were able to connect to the many different

aspects of ‘self redemption’ through nuns, whores, drug addicts and regular people

in search of excitement and satisfaction.

It was important too that another version of this performance was undertaken later in

Gothenburg, a clean well ordered city with little of the drama of Amsterdam. The aspect of

self-redemption that is so clear in a drug-rich red light district is often as necessary in a

blander social context where feelings are still intense but hidden.

Higher Beings represented a new level of engagement with the world beyond the art

gallery. The Love Corporation were still holding to their original principles and

proclaiming ‘Everything is possible, Love conquers all’ but now there was an added

element of risk. In the spirit of experiment and investigation that characterised their earlier work, they were now testing these assertions in the raw world of everyday life. And

perhaps, as word of their performances spread, people were inviting them to test these

statements in more challenging environments.

    What a Higher Beings performance highlights is the fragility of the Icelandic Love

Corporation’s work. There is a deliberate degree of amateurism in the way a work is

presented which reduces the distance between the performers and their audience. This

encourages a kind of intimacy and lack of pretension that is generally absent in ‘art

performance’. It also renders the performers more vulnerable. As with early punk bands

there is a distrust of the protective veneer of absolute professionalism and a desire to

connect directly with an audience. Similarly, the aspects of fairy tale, children’s

storytelling and of girlishness that characterise the work help to draw us back to a world

we experienced before irony. If this is misunderstood then the work becomes weightless.

By cultivating an atmosphere of intimacy and trust, the Love Corporation overcome this

danger and create a space through performance where it becomes possible to

communicate positively.

    This keen desire to remain accessible to a spectator even informs their approach to

discussing their practice. Neither in their own presentations nor in articles written about

them have the works been smothered in the language of art history or critical discourse,

allowing them to remain relatively unmediated. There may be a practical imperative

here as their work relies on the participation and support of the audience, drawing on

their deep collective desire to make a wish or change their lives. Too much interpretation

could easily create distance and bury the impulse to share such fragile hopes.

In a more recent piece such as Hotel Paradise it is possible to see just how this fine line

between interpretation and experience is sustained. Confronted with a mirrored cube

and a trampoline, audience members are invited to jump. As they soar, they glimpse the

interior of the ‘hotel room’ —a luxury space with a giant lipstick for sensual pleasure, a

video player, a Georgia O’Keefe painting and a large axe in case of emergency. It is a

knowing work, well aware of its art historical references and just as determined not to

dwell on them. The audience might also find it difficult to ponder too much on what they

see as they are in mid-air at the time. Recollected later the room offers a series of clues

just as any real hotel room reveals traces of previous occupants. We are free to build our

own critical interpretation around the objects but only after investing physical effort to

engage with the work. We connect first and are given a gift —a room full of objects that

we can then weave into our own intimate narratives.

    This is a process that has intensified in some of the most recent work of the Icelandic

Love Corporation: sea-shells, to listen to the sea in stereo; a life-jacket for night clubs, to repel unwanted advances; a white coffin lined with mirrors, an infinite reproduction in

the space of death; a pair of evening gloves, each finger a smaller arm and hand. These

are not typical ‘art’ objects designed to be viewed passively. Each has a performative

aspect, connecting it as much to the tradition of the theatrical prop as to any school of

sculpture. The objects demand participation, not only in physical terms but through their

stimulus of storytelling. It is difficult to confront these objects without constructing a

narrative around them. Another work —five stove-pipe hats banded with ribbons —

reinforces this impression. Three of the hats are for the members of the Love

Corporation, the remaining two are for guests, inviting us to join them in their fictive universe.

   In parallel with this new phase of object making, there have been a series of

photographic projects and film scripts. In one series of photographs —Where do we go

from here? —the Love Corporation undertake an adventure, are accidently stranded on

the edge of a cliff and are saved by the Icelandic Volunteer Rescue Service. In an

accompanying poem, there is a new awareness of the sublime, nature and death

looming over the fragile hopes of every human life:

The cliffs are high and scary

Our bodies are small and weary

The face of the sky is eerie

This is misery

We ask the whale —help!

We ask the wind —help!

We ask the waves —help!

We ask the world —help!

Never reason with nature

And in that line, ‘Never reason with nature’, lies many of the current concerns of the

group, linking the recent objects to the performances and photographic projects. Faced

with the overwhelming force of nature the Love Corporation point out that we all need to be rescued at some point and that we can help to rescue each other.

And underpinning all of this is a growing sense of mortality. But if they have declared the futility of reasoning with nature and death they have also chosen to fight tooth and nail to the end. Their chosen weapons remain champagne (of course), music, art, fashion and love.