TIGHT, the exhibition catalogue.

Published by Amos Anderson Art Museum. 2010

By Kaj Martin, Senior Curator.

It is quite astonishing how a barren place like Iceland with a population of only 300 000 manages to produce culture of such high quality and startling originality. Visiting Reykjavik one cannot help but notice the central role art occupies. Small is beautiful, and when mini goes maxi, the astonishment is all the greater; the austere Icelandic soil yields the sweetest fruit. Close ties to Europe and America are nevertheless of vital importance.

This also applies to the artist collective The Icelandic Love Corporation (ILC) that has worked as much abroad as at home since their conception in 1996. The performance group formed when Eirún Sigurðardóttir, Jóní Jónsdóttir and Sigrún Hrólfsdóttir (fourth member, Dora Isleifsdottir joined later on in 1996 and was part of the group until 2001), were students at Iceland’s Art Academy. The group bonded and spent a lot of time together (in Finland for example) in the mid-1990s. When they returned to Iceland in 1996, they were given the opportunity to stage a live performance on national TV to promote a performance festival at the National theatre. The performance piece Kiss garnered a lot of attention and encouraged the group to experiment further. The group received bookings for birthday parties and other events, and began to call themselves Gjörningaklúbburinn (Performance club). Internationally they went under the delightful name of The Icelandic Love Corporation.

ILC has been working non-stop since 1996 even though members – Eirún, Jóní and Sigrún – also work separately as independent artists. The main emphasis of the collective is on unique performances but out of these one-off performances more lasting products are born such as installations, sculptures and prints, textiles, photographs and videos. ILC exhibits in traditional exhibition halls as well as in wide open spaces such as the Icelandic landscape. They have also put together editorials for art magazines and designed the imaginative costumes worn by Björk on the cover of her 2007 CD Volta. ILCs art is multilayered, colourful and extrovert, but also feminist and critical. It is based on absurd humour, and ironic and silly situation comedy. The works comment on everything under the sun: everyday life, womanhood, society, different belief systems, nature and myths.

The name of the current exhibition –Tight – refers to tights, skin-tight pantyhose, which is a common thread that runs throughout the works.  Nylon is utilized in every possible way, as material and subject-matter and in costumes, of course. Nylon is colourful, flexible and cheap. It is rather strange how the recycling boom running rampant in contemporary art has almost completely overlooked the use of polyamides. There are, however, some exceptions such as Brazilian Ernesto Neto’s large, amoeba-like installations, Swedish artist Carin Ellberg’s ornamental graphic installations, as well as Katie Truck’s constructivist sculptures. Vanessa Beecroft is perhaps the most famous pantyhose-clad performance artist.  The use of nylon remains, however, marginal and sporadic.

Trivial and everyday, on the one hand, nylon tights can be electrifying and provoke emotions, for and against. Every now and then the fickle and ever-changing fashion industry puts tights on a pedestal only to knock them down the following day. In some situations tights are necessary commodities, in others quite unmentionable.  Tights can be dazzling but also embarrassing, particularly when a ladder runs down a leg. Tights itch, droop and make you sweat. In the mid-1960s tights liberated women from suspenders and stockings. Nowadays, women in customer service and offices all over America rebel against the tyranny of tights. Some men hanker after the lavish stockings of yesteryear and still refer to tights as killjoys. Tights also have a fetishistic dimension: they are intimate – like a second layer of skin – and touch our most intimate parts. At the height of a skirt comeback tights become valued and revered accessories that feature prominently in editorials.

But in real life, strutting around in nothing but tights is to be avoided. Revealing them is somehow shameful. Women – in art and especially contemporary photography –  posing in only bras and thin tights, flashing their knickers, are exposed to the gaze of another and as such represent vulnerability. In some countries, running around barefoot or in socks is considered a very intimate and private thing.  Teenagers in ripped nylons, looking straight at the spectator and challenging his gaze, represent rebellion, power and independence. Cotton or woolen tights are connected to girlhood and a kind of innocence, whereas slipping into sheer nylon tights is often a rite of passage into womanhood. Contemporary art often deals with various aspects of womanhood. Tights can cause a giggle: yanked up over the belly, they are not a pretty sight.

Tights are firmly linked to the female sphere. They also form an essential element in ILCs works, expressly created for our current exhibition. The works pay attention to the specifics and characteristics of nylon as a material and the connotations attached. Through the use of tights as the chief material, topics such as womanliness as well as the male gaze are brought to a head and exaggerated to the point of the grotesque. In some works traditional male and female characteristics are juxtaposed or sounded against each other. Bicycle-riding creatures dressed from head to toe in tight “skin-coloured” attire materialize on to the streets of Helsinki. A brave new, synthetic Nylon Woman has emerged.