Siggi Eggertsson

POST-NORDIC CONTOURS

 

Icelanders are a rare bunch, and with a population just over 300,000, their global profile betrays their modest numbers. Said to be the most literate people in the world, they are a nation of over-achievers, but in recent years, the little green island’s capacity for the exceptional has been smothered under a blanket of disaster.

In 2008, Iceland was the first country to get hammered by the global credit crisis, and it was hit hard and fast. Drubbed into the ground by the same market abstractions that transformed what was a remote fishing outpost into a hub for transatlantic capital. Within a few weeks of the crash, all of their major banks collapsed. Unemployment tripled, the government fell and people started blowing up their SUVs to collect insurance because their currency had lost two thirds of its value.

In 2010, just as Icelanders started to emerge from their vicious economic hangover, Eyjafjallajökul blew its top and spewed 140 million cubic metres of magma discharge across continental Europe, holding tourists from all corners of the world hostage as the fallout made its way into Russia. Around the same time, The Best Party, a satirical political party founded by anarchist-cum-comedian Jon Gnarr, won Rejkyavik’s municipal election. Their election theme song was Tina Turner’s “Simply the Best”.

All of the aforementioned may or may not be relevant to understanding the work of Siggi Eggertsson, an Icelandic illustrator/designer living as an ex-pat in Berlin. But the troubles of Eggertsson’s homeland provide a revealing backdrop to a visual style that has been frequently applauded for its “difference”.

I first met Siggi in Antwerp a couple years back while attending a design conference and was struck by how typically Icelandic he seemed – reserved, tall, blonde, and dressed in black from head to toe. Admittedly, having never met an Icelander before, my preconception of what “typically Icelandic” looked like was the stuff of fantasy, but nonetheless, he fit the part perfectly.

But over some beer and steak I learned that, as with the pre-crash Icelandic economy, the image only hinted at the reality, and that Siggi had a personality as distinct as his work suggests. When one talks to a celebrated European designer, rarely does the subject of Shawn Kemp and the ‘96 Seattle Supersonics come up, but it turned out that Siggi is a huge basketball fan, so we had plenty to discuss.

I recently caught up with Siggi via Skype and talked a bit about Berlin, Nintendo, and LeBron James.

I know you’re a big fan, so I wanted to ask you about LeBron James – what do you like about him?

I just think he’s an amazing player who just gets better and better, and he seems like a cool person off the pitch too. I watched a lot of basketball when Jordan was playing, because there was nothing like him, then when he retired; I lost interest in the sport. And now, somehow, LeBron managed to pull me back into the game.

Is there a certain trait you focused on when you illustrate him?

Not really, I just wanted to draw him, no deep thought behind it. Perhaps in the back of my head I was hoping that someone at his camp sees my work and I get to work with him one day. That would make me feel great.

He’s apparently the most over-analyzed basketball player ever. And he’s got an interesting career arc, from hometown hero to something of a villain. What do you think of the amount of hate he’s received since leaving Cleveland?

I think it’s a bit pathetic. They should rather appreciate what he did for the team when he was there. If he wants to leave, change something in his life, that should completely be up to him, and you can’t really hold anything against him. But I suppose I would feel differently if I was from Cleveland.

Did you get to see the finals?

Yeah, great finals – first time I watched it in a while. Kind of sucks watching the games at 3 AM, but it was worth it.

Do you watch the games at home or does Berlin have some good late-nite sports bars?

I just watch at home. It’s a bit late for going out to watch basketball.

Berlin has developed a mythical status over the years, sort of a Shangri-La for “creatives”. How has the city treated you since you moved there, and what keeps you there?

I really like the city, it’s cheap compared to other European capitals and I can afford a nice apartment. I still don’t speak any German, and that’s a bit annoying. I’m sure I would like the city even more if I could understand everything, but at the same time I kind of like not understanding anything. It helps me focus on my work. So I’m not really in the scene, I don’t know what’s going on, I don’t work for German clients, I just live here because I think it’s nice.

How does the German experience compare to that of Iceland? Is there anything you miss?

It’s definitely different. You can’t get lost in Reykjavik, and everyone knows everyone. And no, nothing I really miss about Iceland that I would like to bring here, but many things I would like to bring to Iceland.

Such as?

Like for example being able to buy beer and wine in a kiosk, instead of having to go to a government run alcohol store that closes at 5 pm. Just stuff like that, stupid rules that no one needs.

I remember we talked a bit about the internet when I was in Antwerp – you seemed to be a fan. How do you think the internet has affected your life? If you were born ten years earlier, would you still be a designer living in Berlin?

The internet is the best invention ever. I got into design when I was rather young, around 13-14, when programs were starting to become usable, and at the same time the internet was becoming mainstream, so I kind of grew up with it. The internet gives (almost) everyone access to information and the ability to share things, so everyone has an equal chance. You don’t have to be in magazines anymore to be noticed.

I think the power of the internet is especially profound when it comes to design/visual arts. The popularity of design seems to have exploded over the years, as with the output.

I agree. But it also has to do with the tools. Now everyone has a computer, so anyone can design something.

But, there’s also some danger when it comes to consuming visual content online. For instance, if you look at certain Flickr groups, or certain blogs, you notice that people will seek out others with similar styles…

Absolutely, I don’t look at it at all. I avoid those websites like fire. I don’t believe you can create something original when you are constantly consuming what other people are currently making. At least that applies for myself. But I made a Tumblr the other day, with stuff that I find inspiring, so maybe I’m just taking part in the whole thing, but I just wanted to share those with people.

That’s one thing that really strikes me about your work – it feels like you’ve embraced the true nature of the programs you use in order to create something entirely new.

The programs are just tools, and I’ve been working with them for such a long time, so it kind of becomes an extension of myself. I probably have different working methods and ways to do things than other people, but it works out for me.

So what is your day like?

Recently it’s been waking up, going out to get breakfast and coffee, go to the studio, answer emails, work, work work, have dinner, work work, go to sleep. Deceptively simple.  But I’m trying to get out of that routine now, going to try to enjoy a little bit of the summer here in Berlin too.

Do you play any ball there?

No, just NBA Jam on the Wii

Do you play many videogames?

Every now and then. Currently playing Paper Mario, really like it. Then I sometimes play StarCraft 2, but recently I’ve just been watching others play StarCraft 2. With commentary, it’s really like watching sports. I’m not sure if you have to know the game to be able to enjoy watching it though, but after following a few players for a while you start recognizing their playing style and tactics. Everything is really thought out, a bit like a chess match.

So, you own a Wii? Not an Xbox/PS3? (I only have a Wii and I’m not ashamed to admit it)

Yeah I only have a Wii, and just recently got it. I’m always a bit afraid of devices that are designed to waste your time. Had my friends Xbox for a while though, was playing the UFC game with friends, that was a lot of fun. But I’m more of a Nintendo guy, prefer clever design/gameplay rather than crazy graphics. Haters gonna hate.

Is there anything specific about Nintendo that you dig?

They are just a bit like the Apple of the console companies. I like the controllers of the Wii, and how you can use them in different ways. And I think the new controller for the Wii U is going to be really cool too.

What are you doing the rest of the day?

Think I’m going to try to work a little bit, then tonight I’m going to try a flotation tank for the first time, kind of excited about that. I’ve wanted to try that for a long time, think it will be nice.

Sounds chill.

 

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