A Model Society

[opposite]<br/>A Model Society, 2007-9. 35mm slide installation, 7'30" duration. Installation view at CAG, Vancouver. Photo by Scott Massey. [opposite]<br/>A Model Society, 2007-9. Rotten Politics, modeled by Arna Bara Karlsdottir. [opposite]<br/>World Database of Happiness, Installation view [opposite]<br/>No War, from A Model Society, modelled by Asta Karen Olafsdottir

According to the World Datatbase of Happiness, Iceland is the happiest country in the world.*

This project works from the form of the iconic Icelandic lopi sweater, and its typical representation. Popular with tourists as well as a vital part of the Icelanders' self-image, it also serves as an expression of an intimate relationship with an epic landscape. The nostalgic and idealised representations of the Icelandic lopapeysa through knitting catalogues ('traditional' though only invented in the 1940s) coincided neatly with my own received impressions of the place: sublime scenery, a hardy people and a historically isolated though very advanced society. This project marks an attempt to mediate this simplified or sentimental representations with people who actually live there.

I placed an advertisement for knitwear models in Reykjavik newspapers, and the respondents (male and female, aged 5 to 85) formed a kind of micro-community or focus group for me to base my research. They were asked to complete a short survey about life in Iceland, and a selection of their answers are edited and knitted into the lopi sweaters I make for them. Each model wears their 'own' text. These include 'safe jobs/ high taxes'; 'awesome daycare'; 'no war' and 'rotten politics'.




The sweaters are modelled in poses and locations typical of the utopian imagery of knitting pattern photographs, which depict harmonious social relationships (often the nuclear family) and the perfect union of people with nature. The images operate as a kind of currency and models are paid in kind with a photographic print. The title of the project refers to the models who participated, but also to the qualities that may be necessary for the construction of this seemingly perfect social order.

* World Values Survey via www.nationmaster.com;  World Database of Happiness at www.worlddatabaseofhappiness.eur.nl

Commissioned by
Site-ations International, 2005. Further supported by the Arts Council of Ireland.

Texts and publications
Sarah Browne, A Model Society, Patterns and Thoughts, knitting manual, published in April 2008 in a numbered edition of 300 (see publishing)
Interview with Sabrina Gschwandtner  for Vogue Knitting USA (October 2008)
Gísli Pálsson, ‘The Skin and the Universe Within’ in Sensible Spaces, Edward H. Hijbens and Ólafur Páll Jónsson editors, Cambridge Scholars Press, 2007/8
Gísli Pálsson, ‘The Skin and the Universe Within’ in Framework, The Finnish Art Review: Nationality in Context, June 2007, available online here.