Designer, artist and maker
Ragna Ragnarsdóttir lives with her husband and son in Philadelphia, USA, where she designs and produces her own work in her studio. "Everything is always in chaos here. I jump from one thing to another. It suits me when I'm working alone, but if someone comes to help, then it's just: what are you doing here? It's mayhem!" says Ragna, laughing. "I don't like drawing on the computer and always end up doing things by hand, mixing things together." Ragna says that she tried to be the kind of designer who works on a computer and then has others make things for her, but that she hasn't been able to connect with that way of doing things.
Several times a month, Ragna works in a large shared workspace where a wide range of workshops, machines and tools are available to her. She is able to do everything there that she can't do in her own studio, and says she likes being in a wider context now and then where she can meet other designers and craftspeople. This facility has been closed since 1 March due to Covid-19 and there is uncertainty regarding upcoming exhibitions and the premiere of the new lights that Ragna has been working on recently. "The lights are a bit different to what I've done before – I'm using different materials and they are much more sculptural."
‘I don't get asked that question anymore, people just assume that my inspiration comes from Icelandic nature.’
Ragna Ragnarsdóttir, 2020
‘It really took me a long while to get just how insanely amazing
Icelandic nature is, and it wasn't before I had been living abroad for
some time that I realised what a privilege it is to have the chance to
work in the countryside.’
Ragna Ragnarsdóttir, 2020
Her mind turns to home and Ragna says she hopes to travel to Iceland in the summer. The plan is to work on another new and exciting project for which she has received a nine-month artist's grant. She says the focus is Icelandic nature, which many people might feel has inspired her work in a significant way: "I don't get asked that question anymore, people just assume that my inspiration comes from Icelandic nature. It is definitely something that is inside me, although I am not conscious of it, but in this project I plan to use Icelandic materials for the first time and the idea is to allow nature to create the objects."
While growing up, Ragna divided her time between Reykjavík and Borgarfjörður: "My dad took over his parents' farm and I have a studio there when I'm in Iceland. I've basically stolen his carpentry workshop." It's often true that we fail to acknowledge how our childhood surroundings shape us, until they appear in – we feel – unpredictable ways in our lives. "Yes, I think it's subconscious. I've always spent a lot of time in nature and as a kid I was out rounding up sheep and all sorts of things – it's so normal that you stop seeing it. It really took me a long while to get just how insanely amazing Icelandic nature is, and it wasn't before I had been living abroad for some time that I realised what a privilege it is to have the chance to work in the countryside," explains Ragna. "I always resisted it because it's such a cliché, but now I've just given up."
Ragna didn't have to go far to develop her talent for craftsmanship and she began learning how things are made early on. As a teenager she worked with her father building summer cabins and after secondary school she was a full-time carpenter. "I was always making things and when I was little I built my own desk with my dad's help. I wanted to do something using my hands, but I didn't dare try visual arts and so design made more sense – and I figured I could make a living from it. Then I end up being much more involved in art-related design than I ever could have imagined."