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The Weather Diaries: Interpreting Fashion from the West Nordic Islands

Exploring influences on the region's creativity, as seen through the eyes of photography duo Cooper & Gorfer

by Nara Shin in Design on 26 May 2014

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Following Reykjavik and Seattle, the German city of Frankfurt is the host of this year's Third Nordic Fashion Biennale (NFB), a traveling event that highlights the unique work of young creatives from Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands. It offers a closer look at the region, which has largely kept its distance from global fads and instead, is still heavily influenced by and rooted in the powerful force of nature. This unique perspective manifests itself in the designers' creative processes and works.

The curators for NFB 2014 are Sarah Cooper and Nina Gorfer, an American-Austrian photographer duo based in Sweden. They're known for their staged portraits with cultural and fashion motifs that are carefully reworked in digital post-production and transformed into something in between a photograph and painting, blurring the line between fact and fiction—and they've pulled out their cameras for the biennale as well. The duo has been tasked with interpreting fashion from the West Nordic Islands through a photographic exhibition and accompanying book, aptly naming it "The Weather Diaries."

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Weather moulds behavior, and isolation forges a pool of creative bravery.

The duo credit Iceland as the magical place where their first artistic project, SEEK Volume 1 / Iceland, was born. "The wild Icelandic weather that had scared us into obedience, had also set the seed for our collaboration as artists. More importantly, it had produced the profound friendship we have today," the duo writes in the intro to "The Weather Diaries." Further, "Weather moulds behavior, and isolation forges a pool of creative bravery. It is a part of the world where market values don't have to make sense, because the forced freight of commercialism is rarely loaded."

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Cooper and Gorfer set up photo shoots throughout Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands, showcasing the works of fashion designers such as Steinnun, Jör By Guðmundur Jörundsson and Barbara Í Gongini as well as with various jewelry designers, a team of filmmakers and other artists. The resulting works, using the dark Nordic landscape of mountains, waterfalls, fog and fjords as their backdrop, reflect a symbiotic relationship between the land and its people. While the first half of the books are color photographs, the second half is a collection of interviews that Cooper and Gorfer conducted themselves with the featured designers. Brooklyn-based, Icelandic artist Shoplifter (aka Hrafnhildur Arnardottir) in particular shared some words that struck a chord: "I think that if there is one thing that is unique to these nations, Iceland, Faroe Islands and Greenland, it is a different relationship to time. Especially when it comes to handicraft, design and art making. In the past you had a lot of time on your hands. Creating was a way of soothing your mind—you can really sit and knit and it might work like Prozac for some people."

As one may expect from the book's title, it additionally includes actual diary excerpts from famed author Baldur Helgi Kristjánsson, dated to 1975. Though he describes the weather matter-of-factly, in between these entries—and those on cows giving birth and visits to the vicar—one can glean how he deeply he felt for his close friends and family as well.

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Due to great success, "The Weather Diaries" exhibition has been extended until 22 September 2014. View it at Museum Angewandte Kunst in Frankfurt, Germany. The book is available for $60 from Gestalten.

Photos by Nara Shin

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