Published December 18, 2015
Curver Thoroddsen and Einar Örn Benediktsson are an interesting pair. Together, they form Ghostigital—a spasmodic, apoplectic, one-off electronic-punk duo known for intense, confusing, abstract stage performances. So it comes as little surprise to find their creative energy also overspills into individual art practises. More surprising, perhaps, is learning that they’ve never exhibited together—until now.
Their first joint show is still running, at the time of publication, at Listamenn—a commercial white-cube gallery and framing specialist on Skúlagata. Einar is showing is drawings—a vivid and eye-catching spaghetti of lines and colours depicting complex, surreal, cartoonish scenes and sequences. Curver’s presentation sits in stark contrast. His contribution is an austere, clean-cut grid of 7” vinyl multiples (45 black ones, and 33.3 white ones) in screen-printed sleeves, mounted on specially constructed wooden shelves.
Rounds Per Minutes
I meet the two in the space to talk about the show. Curver arrives first, bustling in from the cold, ever a warm and enthusiastic presence.
“It’s a concrete work—a conceptual album,” he says. “It’s a big contrast to Einar’s work, of course, which is very organic, colourful and fun. Mine is just numbers, and black and white! Completely conceptual. It’s called ‘Rounds Per Minute’, like the RPM on a vinyl. It’s an effort to make something between my musical and art sides.”
He demonstrates the work, taking out one of the records and setting it spinning on a portable record player. As the needle hits the record, his voice rings out from the small speaker, counting upwards in Icelandic. “I count each time the record spins around,” he explains, “so on this side, I count to 45 in one minute.” He turns the record over. “On the other side, it’s 33rpm so I count to 33—it’s much slower. The last number on this side is actually the ‘third’ in 33.3RPM, so the number is cut off as I say it.” He skips to the end, and the final number cuts out abruptly.
“Counting at different speeds had a totally different feeling,” he says. “The 33rpm counting was slow and normal, and the 45rpm had a different tone—there’s more urgency. It was great to realise it for this show, because the guys at this gallery are geniuses at making frames and stuff.”
Silence and screaming
The work is dedicated to Jóhann G. Jóhannsson, an Icelandic artist who worked with sound and numbers. “Jóhann made the first conceptual record in Iceland, in 1972,” explains Curver. “It was called ‘Breaking The Silence’. There are three minutes of silence and then he screams. The other side is him playing a broken guitar. In 1972 this was considered a really weird 7” record. I got to know him a little better when I was learning electronic music—he was too. He’d been in a Beatles band, moved into ’70s pop, and he was doing releases of underground bands. But he was still curious, doing art and learning to make electronic music. He died of cancer two years ago, so my conceptual record is dedicated to him.”
Curver has actually been making conceptual work and sound art for many years. “In the early days, I did performances that happened in the media,” he explains. “Relational Aesthetics is a buzzword now, but it wasn’t then. I was making performances in popular culture, in the cultural life. For this, I decided to make multiples, as it’s a sales gallery. But I’ve often worked with numbers, and conceptual records. I did cassettes with one song for each day of the year, and a record about the number seven—waking up at seven, and having seventeen hours to write a song, then starting at 17:00 and having seven hours to mix the track.”
Einar Örn arrives next, warmly greeting Curver, and the Listamenn gallerists. His presence bring a certain voltage to the room—Einar seems like someone who lives distinctly from moment-to-moment, wilfully shrugging off the dogma of any given situation, and introducing an element of unpredictability.
“Did you tell him why we’re doing this show?” asks Einar.
“Not really,” replies Curver, “I was explaining the work.”
“You should tell him!” cackles Einar.
Curver pauses, smiling.
“Can’t you say it?” cackles Einar. “Just say it!”
It’s an interesting moment, with a playful, intentionally awkward tension hanging in the air. I wonder if Einar is trying to tease Curver about the show being in a commercial gallery, with the work intended for sale. But the moment is broken by the coincidental arrival GusGus’s Daníel Águst, who walks in to take a look around the exhibition.
“We’ve been working together for fourteen years on music and sound art,” says Curver, as Daníel and Einar say their hellos. “Einar suggested doing this show together. He thought it would be fun to something visual together. The works are a strong contrast—it’s a joint show, but it’s our two different stories.”
Anything can happen
“We called the show ‘The Musings of Two Towers’,” says Einar. “It’s the same discussion between the two of us that happens in the music. I did an exhibition last year and Haraldur Jónsson, the artist, looked at the drawings and immediately started bobbing and weaving, and said ‘You are drawing your music!’ So I think it’s a natural progression that we’d do this together. It’s not like we’re both holding the pen and drawing together… it’s not a jam session. It’s a conversation.”
Einar talks me through the process and subject matter of the various series of drawings. He likes to draw in the evening, after the events of the day, and finds it relaxing to let the line of his pen take a walk.
“It’s a process of thinking nothing, and seeing what happens,” he says. “It’s not like surrealist automatic writing—I’m not pretending that this is automatic. Maybe I’ll start with a hand, as a starting point. And then something just happens… I tell a story, just using one line.”
“This one is called ‘You have no idea what I was listening to,’” he continues, showing me a large framed drawing that occupies a whole wall. “I was listening to BBC Radio 6, but I can’t for my life remember what I was listening to. I name the pictures without defining what they are about. My titles are more like the ‘Once upon a time…’ from fairy tales. Because after ‘Once upon a time…’ anything can happen.”
I wonder if Einar has strands to his creative practise other than his drawings. “Not really!” he exclaims. “But I’ve been doing this longer than I realised. I started making things when I was eighteen, when I was put into the position of having to sing in [seminal Icelandic punk band] Purrkur Pillnikk. The other band members just gave me the microphone. I was brought up in an artistic environment, but that was my first venture, when I discovered the key to be able to write down my thoughts in poems, deciding to use two words in a line, instead of five.”
“But Ási [Ásmundur] Jónsson,” he continues, “who is now usually associated with Smekkleysa, said to me recently ‘I still have that tube of drawings you gave me in 1984’. So I discovered that I’ve been drawing for a lot longer than I thought. I think now, I’m fully attending to this drawing process—adding it into my spectrum of who I am and what I am.”
The centrepiece of Einar’s contribution is a wall of brightly coloured square images, neatly framed and shown in a grid. He tells me how they were made on an iPad, intended to be shown primarily on Instagram. “I used non-reflective glass to get rid of the glare of the screen,” he says. “The series is called ‘If you can’t say it… do something.’ It’s saying… if you can’t say something, you need to change something, so that you can say it. Because you have to be able to express yourself. When I speak, I always mean what I’m saying. There’s no hidden agenda.”
I wonder if these two practises represent, to some degree, Einar and Curver’s roles in the band: Curver creating a rhythm and some semblance of order, and Einar dancing across it with a free-form flourish.
Curver half-agrees, describing his onstage process in terms of both creating and controlling chaos—pushing Ghostigital’s music to the absolute limit of the sound system, where unexpected and unpredictable results occur. But he does see the parallel. “Einar is more in the moment in Ghostigital, telling the story,” says Curver, “and I’m conceptualising it, putting that into a form. Maybe that’s the strength of Ghostigital, that contrast. Einar has this craziness and liveliness, and I try to conceptualise that, and put it into a form.”
“There is correlation,” says Einar. “But as you mention that, I sometimes have the feeling when we play together that’s like when I was in Purrkur Pillnikk. It was a very organic, original punk band and I felt really good with those guys. It had traditional drums, bass, guitar. Curver’s in the digital world, but there’s the same feeling of being organic.”