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Musings and Shit: Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Mind wanderings on the “reality” of our modern cultural landscape…

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Been spending a lot of my time recently poring the numerous, dense posts from S.C.Hickman’s deliciously gothic blog Alien ecologies ~ the carnal edge of posthumanism, casting a light on the dark, manky pools of thought and conjecture that centre around the inhuman (technocapitalism, speculative realism, Lovecraftian horror, and much ,much more).

One series of posts really caught my attention, his thoughts on, and review of the latest work by Franco “Bifo” Berardi, Heroes; Mass Murder and Suicide. In the book Bifo casts his eye on modern US culture and states that murder and suicides, especially ones that garner a huge amount of media and internet attention, are developmental signs of a vast kingdom of nihilism powered by a virulent death drive, and that we should map this corporate waste land of imagery in order to replace “Art, politics and therapy with a process of re-activation of sensibility, might help humankind to recognize itself again.” It’s a book I actually saw on sale in Mál og Menning and one that I’m going to have to buy and put on the massive pile of books in my in-tray that I’m slogging my guts out to read this summer.

In his piece, Hickman notes that both Bifo (and Zizek for that matter) have rather warped ideas on America in that “any form of critique is based on a necessary fiction, an illusionary simulation of the facts rather than the facts themselves.” But it was the following sections from Hickman that really caught my eye

The point here is that we are all living in artificial worlds whether we think so are not. Even the supposed natural world is a fake. Nature no longer exists. It’s all controlled by specialize access, government funding, caretakers and regulatory systems. Even the most isolated places on the planet are under someone’s control. There is no wild nature left. And, know one even remembers what that meant? Reality is produced for us even against our will. We are all will-nilly thrown into simulated realms through the meditainment networks of parent, schools, government, music, art, society…. the whole cultural nexus is one giant psychosphere. I’ve written of another Italian, The Onlife Initiative: Luciano Floridi and ICT Philosophy for whom the complex of Information and Communcations Technology spanning the globe (ICTs) are not mere tools but rather social forces that are increasingly affecting our self-conception (who we are), our mutual interactions (how we socialise); our conception of reality (our metaphysics); and our interactions with reality (our agency). In each case, ICTs have a huge ethical, legal, and political significance, yet one with which we have begun to come to terms only recently.

Of course reading this, you’d say that we need to return to reality, to nature and to “get real” and step outside of this corrosive, oppressive cultural order, this web of simulation. But then Hickman notes…

But can we? No. The notion of stepping outside of the simulator is to suddenly enter the zone of pure madness. Who would you talk to about reality? Once you left the simulator who would you be able to communicate with? What language would you use? And, most of all, if there was an “outside” – would there be a return door? Or would such an exit from the simulated world of late modern capitalism be a one way exit with a sign posted: No Returns. I sometimes think about the thousands of new dystopian YA novels being published. So many of them just pure bunk, not worth the paper their written on, not even good stories. But here and there you discover one or two that actually expose the truth of dystopian critical visions: it’s not about how bad hell is, but rather how we can in this dark hellish landscape of our own making create or invent a space of freedom, a place within the false world to discover once again what it means to be real – not human… but real. Maybe we need those boundaries between Mind and World, thought and being, artificial and natural… maybe it was the very effort to cut the fences down between them, to force a merger between thought and being that has brought us to this world of simulated realities in which nothing of the real is left. What to do? In a world where the boundaries between mind and world, thought and being have already lost their force and merged who will be the one to discover a way to cut them in twain again? Are we doomed to a simulated universe of nihilistic noise where the only escape is as Berardi forecasts: mass murder and suicide? Or is there another way?

You see it’s at reading stuff like this when I think about the material “reality” of Iceland, my adopted homeland. It’s often been noted that in terms of politics and economics, Iceland has been like a test-tube, a petri dish where the most destructive form of neoliberal policy could be enacted on society and bean counters and academics could examine what happens. A controlled study so to speak.

At times I wonder if the same thing hasn’t happened with art, philosophy,and culture as well.

For example, a couple of weeks ago some regulars at the bar I work at asked in all seriousness if Icelandic rapper Gisli Palmi was a joke character, in the same vein as Silvia Nott or Leonice. Well taking into account that Leoncie is actually “real” (just really shit at what everything she does), this question/comment got me thinking. There is often huge amount of discourse about Iceland about how Icelandic culture is so important, how we need to protect it, how it provides money and jobs. Often people ahve said that so many people come to Iceland “For the culture.”

But often I just reply, are they coming to Iceland for the culture, or are they merely comping for a marketed image they been provided of what Icelandic culture is?* When most artistic acts in Iceland come with a jokey, ironic aside (with the artist often emphasising that “it’s all just a bit of a joke”); where postmodernism, masked in the historical actions of the KUKL/Smekkleysa gang has completely obliterated any concrete interpretations, low/high art boundaries, or referrents to reality and essence, meaning that styles and personas can be changed and traded on a whim, that history can rewritten or forgotten completely;When every artist now creates and disseminates a social media “brand,” mixing their artistic and real-life personas into a continuous flow of images and soundbites; when agents and institutions of the real (police, politicians, etc) become active participants in TV, film and media satire, being the subject of joke while also in on said joke at the same time; where sounds and images are pilfered from the internet with ease; when concepts such as “nature” and “purity” itself becomes raw corporate imagery to market everything around us; when the tools of Icelandic culture, even social movements from feminism to equal rights become mediated by a web of corporate, state and quango interests; when there is almost psychopathic dissonance being exhibited by ALL of us involved in the cultural industry that allows to state/believe that we are unadulterated, autonomous, artists and scholars, allowing us to look away/ignore our own positions in the machine as uber-capitalist entrepreneurs, so that The system is no longer visible qua the system, then you have to ask yourself, just what IS real? Do we even know where the boundaries are any more? When Icelandic culture tries to “get serious,” all too often it merely consists of angry but ultimately meaningless social media rants (Like this one!), or often performance art actions of pious inconsequentialism, easily brushed aside and ignored.

All too often, I’m discussing the significance of a certain image, or song, or motivation behind a piece of art with someone, and all too often I’ve been told “But, does it have to mean anything?” And for many this means that you have artistic freedom to do whatever you want. But all too often what it means that it just becomes more fodder to feed the monster of Icelandic capital markets. 

Right now, the idea of total madness in stepping outside the cultural is preferable to the hall of mirrors that seems to constitute each new record release/gallery opening/facebook discussion thread. But i know that way is a fools errand. The quest for the inhuman real goes on….

* – apparently Paris Syndrome is a real psychological disorder. I wonder how long it is before we start seeing some cases of Iceland Syndrome?

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2015 in Iceland

 

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Academia n’ Shit: Sirkústjaldið: Movie Reviews: Stockfish Film Festival

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

As you may or may not know, one of the reasons I’m not blogging as much or in such depth is that I’m back in Higher Education as a mature student doing Film Studies at the University of Iceland. Apart from the language barrier, such as the fact that I have almost no god damn idea what many of the lectures and discussions are about, I’m actually having a whale of a time (all the reading material is in English. fuk yeah!). Pretty much every moment is of the sensation of being a big, lumbering, bearded sponge trying to soak up as much theory and practice on culture as I can get my hands on, while also haranguing my teachers with numerous off-topic statements and sending in laborious epics for my final essays. I’m sure they love me really!

I’ve also been asked to contribute where I can towards Sirkustjaldið, the website and journal portal to the university’s Arts and Humanities dept. Of course there are some major teething issues, such as the aforementioned language problem (everything is in Icelandic, which raises the evil specter of translation, and comments such as “what the hell is a Cyclogammatron???”), as well as numerous cultural miscommunication barriers.

But my first piece (of my take on some films from the Stockfish Film Festival that happened in Reykjavik several weeks ago) is now about to be uploaded on site, so to reciprocate, I’m uploading the English version here. Enjoy….

Reality Bites: The Vampire film in an age of Transnational Postmodernism

The recent Stockfish Film Festival in Reykjavik provided two interesting additions to the moribund canon of the Vampire Film

By Bob Cluness

In her book on the cultural history of the Vampire, Our Vampires, Ourselves, Nina Auerbach claims that “Every age embraces the vampire it needs, and gets the vampire it deserves.” Since it was introduced as a folkloric abstract of pure evil in the high-Gothic drama of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the vampire myth, thanks to the mass culture of Literature, Film and TV, has become fully integrated and propagated throughout the public consciousness.

The last few decades however has seen the Vampire become the victim of postmodernism and the capitalist culture of consumption, hollowed out and diluted by a series of dreary, bloated Hollywood and TV adaptations. Today, the vampire is no longer seen as an abject figure of transgression, but as a symbol of capitalist ideology, displaying the models of normative whiteness – young, cool, sexy semi-sociopathic characters with buff bodies and great hair.

As a form of riposte, Jim Jarmusch’s excellent 2013 film, The Only Lovers Left Alive, sought a different avenue to the vampire myth. An exquisitely shot and crafted movie, it starred Tom Hiddlestone and Tilda Swinton as two centuries-old vampires who drift through time like ghosts in their own world. Jarmusch shies away from violence and transgression, instead making his vampires ageless hipster aesthetes whose boredom of been-there-done-that has led to a high amount of self-reflectiveness. Civilised and refined figures who love the fine things in life, they valorise “good” forms of anglicised culture, such as vintage guitars and vinyl records, while sneering and turning their back on the ugly culture of the modern world (It’s worth noting that the only modern cultural figure they respect in the film is Jack White of all people). It’s an old school sensibility that while graceful and poised, occasionally slips into condescending snobbery.

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Transnational Bloodsuckers

It was The Only Lovers Left Alive that came immediately to mind as I watched two films about vampires at the inaugural Stockfish Film Festival that took two different views of the state of the Vampire in modern culture. The first film, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, is a US/Iranian film directed by Ana Lily Amirpour, her feature-length debut. Billed as an “Iranian Vampire Western,” the film is ostensibly set in an Iranian ghost town called “Bad City,” where even though the nodding-dog oil pumps work away day and night, it’s a place of unemployment, inequality and desperation. We see various characters try to do whatever they can to survive: The opening scene show a young man, Arash, lose his classic ’57 Thunderbird car to Sayeed, a drug dealer, due to the debts of his addict father. Meanwhile, we see a woman prostituting herself to make ends meet (with Sayeed as her pimp). But one night Sayeed picks up a mysterious young woman wearing a Chador, and takes her back to his apartment. This young woman however turns out to be a vampire, who immediately kills Sayeed before stalking the streets of Bad City at night, with many of the film’s characters coming under her ghostly spell.

The first thing you immediately notice about the look and “feel” of A Girl Walks Home… is the way it pins its numerous cinematic influences on it sleeve. While being a vampire film, it adds elements of the coming-of-age, neo-noir and western genres. With its lengthy shots, meandering narrative, gritty low life characters and settings, and expressive mise en scene (Alluringly shot in black and white by Lyle Vincent), it also owes a huge debt stylistically to directors such as the aforementioned Jim Jarmusch and David Lynch, as well as numerous European new wave cinema movements.

The other thing you notice about A Girl Walks Home… is how initially un-Iranian it looks as a film. Apart from a few posters and shots of Persian TV, Euro-US cultural signs and symbols pervade nearly every scene, from the character’s clothing (James Dean Americana, French synth-wave fashion), the music (Euro tech-house, post-punk and synth revivals), to the town’s architecture and landscape (anonymous suburban streets, rich mansions, rural-poor trailer parks). If it weren’t for the fact that everyone speaks Persian, you would think that they’ve simply made an American film with Iranian dialogue added for extra coolness.

But if you look past this, then you see that there is more going on in the film than just a mere transplantation/appropriation of Persian exotica onto Americana. The director Amirpour and the actors are all either Iranian born or 2nd generation Iranian-Americans, and like many émigré and diasporaic groups feel the pull between the culture they live in with the historical cultures of their parents, often falling in-between the gaps and becoming something else altogether.

As a result A Girl Walks Home… is like an Iranian translation of Paul Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic, as Amirpour and the film’s actors take this clash of east and west and project a double consciousness onto their characters. They may look, dress and act western, but they still retain a sense Persian identity, a cultural bilingualism that offers up something new and interesting. These clashes of cultures are perfectly highlighted in scenes such as when The Vampire Girl and Arash (leaving a party in Vampire fancy dress) first meet, the French-Persian-synthpop vampire coming face-to-face with the Iranian-Rock-and-roll-rebel-Hollywood version, or the lovely shots of The Vampire Girl as she races down the street on a skateboard, her chandor flapping behind her like the wings of a bat.

A Girl Walks Home… is a wonderfully realised piece of intercultural cinema which turns away from the prevailing sense of whiteness and cultural homogeneity in Jarmusch’s The Only Lovers…, instead infusing the vampire genre with a transnational sensuality.

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Revenge of the Undead Nerds

If A Girl Walks Home… Is all about drawing in and seducing the spectator, then What We Do In The Shadows does the exact opposite, as it makes its vampires horribly human with all our attending failings. Directed, written, and starring Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement (better known as one half of NZ comedy duo Flight Of The Conchords), the film is a comedy “mockumentary” that follows four vampires who share a flat in Wellington, New Zealand. The film crew observes their daily lives as they show what it’s really like living as a vampire in modern times, whether it be the endless bickering about house rules and the washing up, the difficulty vampires have in getting into nightclubs (the bouncers have to formally invite you in), to the pain of getting your bloodied clothes dry cleaned properly (decent slaves are hard to find these days). We also see how they deal with a local guy whom they have accidentally turned into vampire and wants to be mates with them.

The humour of WWDITS derives from the personalities of the vampires themselves. Like the stars of Jarmusch’s The Only Lovers…, the vampires here are centuries old (Petyr, the Nosferatu lookalike clocking in at 8000 years), but instead of being effortlessly cool and sexy, as if they were members of Singapore Sling, the vampires in WWDITS are total dorks, complete with gut fat, bad breath and flop sweat. Their attempts to pass off as cultured and cultivated dandies consistently falls flat as their lack of integration with modern NZ culture is painfully exposed at every turn. Scenes such as one of the vampires giving an “erotic” dance will make you chew your fist off, while the sight of them “performing” the music of the old country neatly skewers the scenes of tasteful music-making performed in Jarmusch’s movie.

While A Girl Walks Home… contains poised, textured cinematography, the camera work in WWDITS perfectly mimics the modern documentary style with wobbly, jerky movements, along with the classic technique of just holding onto the nervous subject for that moment too long. Meanwhile the night-time camera lights provide the harsh glare that allows you the filth and grime of their house. They may have been aiming for faded grandeur, but these guys are a complete bunch of filthbags.

From start to end, WWDITS is bloody (lol) funny with a constant stream of gags as the writing of Clement and Waititi taps a similar vein of eccentric comedy that you see in Flight Of The Conchords. The clash of the bloody and gruesome world of the vampires with the deadpan humdrum of their human friends/slaves provide the best moments, such as slave Jackie moaning “I’m stuck here ironing their fucking frills,” or when their mate Stu is asked “Are you a demon?” with  his deadpan reply, “No I’m a software analyst.” There is also some great moments when the vampires run into a gang of werewolves, hilariously led by fellow Conchords alumni Rhys Derby, who are trying to come to terms with their inner anger (“We are werewolves, NOT swearwolves!”).

Even though A Girl Walks Home At Night and What We Do In The Shadows don’t truly revolutionise the canon of the Vampire film, but they both offer ideas that allow us new ways to views vampires as something other than pretty western boys who sparkle in the sunlight.

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2015 in Film

 

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Gorging on Junk/Culture….

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Towards the end of Actress’ fourth, and potentially final, album, there is a song – or a snatch of a song – called ‘Don’t’. Clocking in at a minute and quarter, it consists solely of a looped, time-stretched, slightly chopped vocal sample (from Rihanna? An acid rarity?) imploring “Don’t stop the music” over a three-note keyboard figure which is only vaguely complementary. If there is a single track which serves as a key to deciphering this confrontational, challenging, moving, exhausting, complex and, ultimately, important record, it’s probably this. Ghettoville, it seems, is an argument for doing exactly the opposite to what the orphaned voice on ‘Don’t’ asks: it speculates, in ways which are alternately subtle and obvious, as to what the case might be for downing tools.

 After all, in the current context, what is “the music”? Is it (clue: it’s not) an umbrella term for a connected, but benevolently antagonistic, ecology of thriving subcultures, or is it merely an abstraction which offers a reference point to the unimaginative, an appropriable signifier deployed to denote a more vaguely-defined creativity? Does “loving music” in London, in 2014, now mean anything more than collecting an armful of festival wristbands – shitty feathers in a metaphorical headdress – and heading to the local O2 every second Friday to get some culture? Get to all the festivals you can. Never take your earphones out. Watch your playlist snake elegantly from The Lumineers to Emeli Sande, from Rudimental to some guy you saw at the local’s Acoustic Sessions and is definitely getting signed soon, from Nirvana Unplugged to Nouvelle Vague to Sigur Ros to some Northern Soul tune you heard on an advert and you “really, really like”. Get on the street teams. Go to ‘gigs’; in fact, spend all your money on them. Make sure everyone knows you spend all of your money on them. You love music, love everything about it. But what you forget in this performed fit of inextinguishable amour fou, what gets neglected as this passion is fed at every conceivable opportunity, is that the love-music-alisation of this city, of this country, is precisely coterminous with the gradual erosion of music’s capacity to serve as a vector of political representation. What’s also forgotten is that this process is only part, albeit a potentially fundamental part, of a story about a crisis of political representation in general.

Joe Kennedy: The Quietus: Reviews: Actress, “Ghettoville”

Post-capitalism replaces the once valid and still glorified Lutheran imperative “Work!” with a new pair of verbs: Enjoy! (By no coincidence, the slogan of Iceland’s favourite beverage, Coca-cola.)– and its complimentary: Create! ( For the slogan, we have “Think different” and “Just do it!”). And where do they lead to, in a country of 300 thousand traditionally industrious people, doing their patriotic best to fulfill the promise of sovereignty and prosperity? Hysterical inflation of creative efforts hyped up by international attention and recognition? Economically systematized and encouraged bohem…ish lifestyles? If so, what becomes of the subversives, and the subversive role of arts – its intention and possibility of saying something new and potentially dangerous? 

In the early nineties, Francis Fukuyama wrote about the end of history, a hypothesis much popularized among right-wing intellectuals. His proposal was that after centuries of bloody struggle and dispute, humanity has now found the most stable possible social system, Western market-democracy, and all that is left is for that system to spread to the other 90% of the planet’s population … then we will finally be “there”. According to the theory, of course, some of us already are “there”, inhabiting a world of hobbies, seeking enjoyment wherever we please.

His hypothesis seems an apt ideological interpretation of the state of arts and culture in Iceland. 12,000 music students, 3000 choir members, 400 new book titles published each year – 10% of the Icelandic population showed up for the film festival in April; grandmothers listen to experimental ambient, and half a generation seems to attend the local art academy while the other half attends conferences about the links between business and culture. And those links certainly prosper – over a hundred artists have their basis to work and mingle on the premises of gallery Klink og Bank – a huge building offered the artists by Björgólfur Guðmundsson, one of the recently-made Icelandic mega-capitalists. Add state funding – government expenditures on “cultural affairs” amounted to 20 billion ISK in 2001 – not to forget easily acquired overdrafts and student loans, and you will see why basic production and services are mostly left to immigrant workers.

The facts hint at the utopian. Art is more fun than fish factories. So what if the art scene is not all that monumental, so what if the number of books printed far exceeds the amount of fresh thought in the country, and so what if the performed concerts exceed the potential audience – what excess could be more exhilarating? It is a miniature country, the number of inhabitants approximately the same as the staff at Disneyworld, and it has its own worthy superhero, (BJÖRK, if you need to ask), plus a handful of quite notable artists. Is a healthier and more enjoyable response to the fast development from third world pre-modernity to first class private-jetdom imaginable?

Haukur Már Helgason: Reykjaivk Grapevine, “Screaming Masterpiece?”

I was in New York for about 28 hours and I went to the new Rough Trade shop and found in one space all that is wrong with “alternative culture”.

Let’s just say this for now: alternative culture is over. It’ll be hard to jettison. I don’t know if I could ever do it myself, and I’m sure it will be harder for those of you who have experienced the Velvet Underground or Joy Division or Sonic Youth or My Bloody Valentine as something more than a $30 180g repress prominently displayed in a heavily-curated section of a record store whose function seems to be a living museum of what was once deemed oppositional.

What we need to work towards, what I am failing at writing about, is a way to completely and coherently describe the actual ideology of “post-ideology”, to enumerate the characteristics of the bland tastefulness that makes a store like this possible, where all of the competing and formerly vital beliefs as to what music is and should be are all housed together, with no contradictions apparent, towards both delegitimizing this state of affairs and towards seeing this state of affairs as being intrinsically tied to the culture itself as opposed to being imposed upon it externally

Airport Through The Trees: d D Delay

 

“An analysis of “the actual ideology of “post-ideology”.” Hmmm…. Sometimes I wish I had the brains and intellectual power to undertake such a task. Would probably make me famous… or a pariah. I was talking about this stuff with my friend Kata the other day in my own poorly formed way, only for her to basically say “who cares? who gives a shit?” Really need to beef up my debating skills.

But it’s this idea though of accepting that “art” is everything, and everything is “art,” And the basis/motivation of where this “art” comes from shouldn’t be analysed, questioned, critiqued, or deconstructed is something that both intrigues and worries me a fair bit.

For me though, the majority of what is championed as proof of a vibrant artistic/cultural scene, actually displays an inherent conservatism of “subversive” stances, Add to this the “progressive” hedonism of tasteful consumption, the complacency and superficiality, and the overvaluing of beliefs in our mindset over beliefs that we exhibit and externalize in our actions, you have something for the braver art historians/philosophers/cultural theorists to mull over…

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Musings And Shit: Dey dun gun tuk ur culturrrrezz! Reykjavik’s hotel wars, pt. 2,354….

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So that’s it then. Another venue bites the dust as last weekend saw the final closing of Faktorý and the surrounding Heart Garden area. There’s been much wailing and gnashing of online teeth at the continued “onslaught” of hotels popping up all over downtown as it also meant the closure of Hemmi Og Valdi (A cafe that hosted grassroots music gigs).  It’s a crying shame it happened. I’ve had many good times there (Memories of going mental at a Reykjavik! concert during a fundraiser for Palestine a few years ago spring to mind). But the writing had been on the wall for that area for years now, so it was only a matter of time I guess.

There’s no real point in going over how I feel about this again as I would only end up repeating many of the things i said about the closing of NASA, but suffice to say that it’s pretty obvious now that Reykjavik, as with many other cities from New York, to London and Berlin, is suffering a fairly painful bout of gentrification. It’s not just that hotels are popping up everywhere. Thanks to the banks keeping hold of hundred of vacant properties, prices and rents in the downtown area are increasing big time, with students are getting squeezed out of accommodation that are now being used as B&Bs and guest houses for tourists, all the while the rough edges of 101 culture are continuously being brushed and sanded off as everything is made safe, trendy, and consumer friendly for the masses.

The issue of culture vs hotels has now been laid out in the main feature of the latest issue of the Grapevine. The piece itself is pretty even-handed, preferring to not so much go “GRRRAGH! Hotels bad! Cool bespoke hostels great!” Instead trying to get a bit more underneath the underlying tensions that increased tourism has wrought on the city.

A couple of things about the feature with regards to culture and tourism though really stuck out for me.

– The fact that Icelandair will be putting up the hotel where Faktorý/Heart Garden is situated. Now that’s interesting. Icelandair, eh?, The same Icelandair that pretty much has Icelandic culture by the balls? Whether it’s Airwaves or SONAR, If you want to do something major and international in this country, you have to go forelock tugging to the mighty chieftains of the Icelandic skies, what with them leveraging their monopoly over flights to Iceland. And they know this big time as they use Iceland’s culture as a mere tool to further their own ends. Take SONAR for instance. The fact is is that Icelandair (one of the main sponsors) put their weight behind getting SONAR, not because of its love for electronic music, blah, blah, but to create an event in February so they can put bums on seats to Iceland in the off-season after new year, Just like they did with Airwaves all those years ago. You’ve got to grudgingly admire the way that they can dictate and call the shots so well. I wonder if any of Iceland’s cultural wonks or tastemakers will speak out about Icelandair’s use of culture in this way. Probably not – they know which way their bread is buttered.

– The comments of Ghostigital frontman/city Councillor Einar Örn Benediktsson. This is the first time I’ve actually seen someone from the Best Party actually speak about this issue. It was always telling that throughout all of this, the silence from them on this issue was deafening. Not even a simple bland platitude along the lines of, “we’re all saddened by this, but hey, whatcha gonna do, right?” I remember when someone called Einar Örn out on FB a while ago as to why the city was not doing more to preserve grassroots music and he replied.

“The City of Reykjavik supplements Iðnó and Tjarnarbíó in the region of 40m kr a year. It supports Tonlistarþróunarmiðstöð (TÞM). It has a culture fund which all and everybody can send an application to. The city of Reykjavik supports Loftbrú, to name a few. It also runs via Hitt Husið, several programmes like Musiktilraunir. The problematic here, is that if the City decides to support a venue which is in the competitive market those in the market might sue. Having said this, then I am working on something for the grassroots which I hope will come to light in the next few weeks. BUT my main argument is that the grassroots have always had the ability to survive and be creative. And that will not change. We are not invalids. I will continue to play with ghostigital wherever I find possible.”

Now understandably there’s not much they could have done about Faktorý what with it being privately owned land, but it does seem odd that despite their lack of action on the issue, many of Iceland’s artists keep looking to the Best Party to do something about this. Well in the words of Einar Örn, the city already do enough, stop whining,and you are pretty much on your own on this.

– Paul Óskar stating that many tourists come to Iceland for the culture. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this being mentioned, as people were saying this around the time of the closing of NASA. And it looks as if I´m going to have to repeat myself here, but the reality is that over the last few years (Showing echoes of Cool Britannia in the ’90s), with the rise of Iceland’s cultural industries, much of the culture in Iceland has been used as branded content as a way of selling Iceland to tourists. From the music, to the design & fashion, to the “Legendary” party antics of downtown, culture and style magazines and newspaper lifestyle supplements the world over have been touting Iceland as one of the coolest places in the world to go. Of course I’m sure it warms the soul to see Reykjavik talked of in glowing terms, but alas one of the by-products of this is that everyone now wants to come to Iceland, ergo more tourists and hotels. Even professional bohemians such as Atli Bollason have noted the change it has brought onto their cool downtown party stage.

Man this is starting to all get really messy. And now we have the head of Central Hotels, (Who are right next to the Heart Garden), coming out saying that he’s hated the Heart Garden all along, even though he was happy to sell beers to the people who were partying there (We were dumb enough to buy them). We need to remember this – Money, culture, tourism, gentrification, politics. It’s all linked. Each affects and is affected by the other. And to say that you are not interesting with these issues is not an answer. We all need to start asking ourselves in what way are we feeding this beast and is there any way, if not to stop it (It´s too late for that), then to at least steer it to the least damaging route for Reykjavik, all the while showing that we’re not all merely puppets that can be used to shill shiny lifestyle tourist packages. And that’s easier said than done….

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Infofelch: Now & Then. “Cool Britannia” Vs “Inspired By Iceland”

 

“I gather — for those lucky enough to be there — it was all a brief period of illumination, elation, etc.. “Heady times,” as they say. And it was a sense of zeitgeist that didn’t just involve music, but also seemed swept the cultural board as a whole — art, design, advertising, fashion, film, even restauranteering. A new sense of assurance, vitality — of relevance — brought about and bolstered by a number of concurrent phenomena. Acid house and Madchester and the rave scene that followed, the emergence of a new generation of visual artists in the form of the YBA, etc. Add to all this the ascendence of so-called New Labour and all the ambiguity that surrounded it — the speculative uncertainty about where its ideological core fell in relation to traditional Labour and conservatism, and just what (and who) was included under the newly-opened umbrella of Tony Blair and New Labour’s “New Britain.”

Our God Is Speed – Sensations

 

“Far from radically reconfiguring the relationship between high and low, argued Simon Ford and Anthony Davies in their essay “Art Capital” (Art Monthly, Feb. 1998), YBA had been unwittingly hijacked by big business and government as a means to build brand through lifestyle marketing. Tony Blair, and before him John Major, set out to relaunch Britain as youthful, entrepreneurial, cool, and creative: a desirable destination for tourists, wealth creators, and decision makers. YBA, along with Britpop, was a key marketing device in the construction of that image. At the same time, the British economy was experiencing a booming consumer culture in the wake of the 1989-91 recession. The press, chasing advertisers, began to fill its pages with “lifestyle” journalism rather than consumer-unfriendly news-and natural self-publicists like Hirst and Emin were close at hand. Hirst`s multifarious activities-his music videos, his restaurants, his record covers, his product design-appeared, for a moment, to signal a radical disruption of art`s specialized terrain. But when stores like Habitat and Selfridges recognized the consumer advantage in affiliating themselves with the new British art, the symbiosis between commerce and culture deepened until, as Simon Ford concluded, “the art becomes inseparable from the products it is helping to sell-the floor coverings and furnishings, the restaurants and clubs.” Rather than reflect on consumer society, as Pop art did, YBA became an aspect of it.

As journalism embraced YBA, criticism abandoned it: Britart has no Bergers or Burgins to call its own. The art historian Julian Stallabrass, whose courageous book High Art Lite of 1999 remains the only detailed critical excavation of the period, argues that YBA itself is inimical to criticism because it refuses any cultural or intellectual responsibility. “Instead,” he writes of Sarah Lucas`s Sunday Sport pieces, “a pervasive and disabling irony becalms the work in a manner that is supposed, in conventional wisdom, to challenge the viewer but which in fact conveniently opens up demotic material to safe aesthetic delectation.”

KATE BUSH ON THE YBA SENSATION – Mutualart.com

 

“But the weird thing about it is that I either have never thought about it at all – making art popular — or else I’ve positively hated the popularisation of contemporary art. When I’m being extreme, I’m capable of thinking that frankly the whole art scene is made up of a bunch of idiots. And I have no desire to get millions of ordinary people to queue up to look at that stuff. Why should they? It’s got nothing much to do with them. To suddenly expect it to be popular is asking the impossible. There really is very little in it for a mass audience and I think this mass audience it’s suddenly now got, knows that really. And they’re not really interested; they’re just along for the ride, for the nonsense. The mandarin people in charge of the Turner Prize, and the media people at Channel 4, and middle-class people who run the art columns on the broadsheets, all assume ordinary people must have this stuff explained to them — but the motivations for doing that are completely bullshit. It’s for commercial reasons, to get the ratings up.

“You could have said 50 years ago that the equivalent people in charge of modern and contemporary art packaged it for the masses because they thought it was good for them, or it would save society, or it was against fascism, or something. But now they don’t even pretend it’s out of decent motivations. It’s just for commercial reasons. In any case, I don’t care about any of that. But as I said, I only think those types of things when I’m being extreme.”

Richard Marshall Interviews Matthew Collings – 3AM Magazine

 

“Up until the crisis many of the financial institutions in Iceland played Medici-like patrons to artists—and used the artists’ image to promote their loans, overdrafts, savings and pension-plans in national ad-campaigns and carefully orchestrated media events, complete with oversized cheques, handshakes and photo-ops. Everybody (more or less) played along. There were sponsored squats for artists and a rubbing of shoulders with European jet-set elites—including the president’s wife, Dorrit Moussaieff and the Baroness Francesca von Habsburg—a considerable portion of the young art scene in Reykjavík had in this way direct access to some of the most powerful people in the European art scene. And the financial institutions—mainly Landsbanki Íslands—would throw petty alms at the starving artists, who proved more than willing to prostitute themselves (including me and my friends) for what was in all honesty a mere pittance.”

Literature In The Land Of The Inherently Cute – Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl – Reykjavik Grapevine. 

 

Hmm…

The rise of a new positivity and vitality in the arts and culture that’s riding on a cool Zeitgeist. The melding of art, literature, music, design and other forms of culture with politics, along with the embracing of musicians, artists, directors, novelists, other wonks, into political parties, or party representation (Björt Framtið = New Labour for example). The embracing of commercialised cultural lifestyles. The marketing of a nation’s cultural capital abroad by both the state and private interests. The lack of any decent cultural appraisal/criticism, etc, etc.

I know Iceland is the most post-modernist country in the world, but some of the parallels between “Inspired By Iceland” and “Cool Britannia” are so uncanny, I honestly think they’re trying to completely recreate the ’90s up here!

 
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Posted by on May 20, 2013 in Iceland

 

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Reykjavik Grapevine: Arts Review: “TOO… MUCH… CULTURE!”

So last month, i undertook a challenge to myself (and for the paper) to take a whole day of Icelandic Culture high fat, high sugar food items, and warm beer in their annual shindig Menningarnótt 2011. Go and read it. Really, go on, it’s not that bad! And it really didn’t do me that much harm.

I think I’ll move to the country next year….

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2011 in Iceland, literature, music

 

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