Published June 27, 2003
“World domination or death” was the Bad Taste motto. Björk opted for the former; for the others, the result was somewhere in between. Still, it must be said that Bad Taste and the people associated with it managed to put not only Icelandic music but also Iceland itself on the map. Before them, the only bands who had come anywhere close to international success were Thor´s Hammer, who released an English language album that was widely ignored at the time but has since become something of a collector’s item, and the jazz-pop instrumental group Mezzoforte, who had a Top 20 UK hit with the song Garden Party. As one frustrated pretender, Herbert Guðmundsson, put it so heartbreakingly, “When you say you´re from Iceland, people just laugh.” After Björk however, anything is possible.
The exhibition, currently in Hafnarhúsið, documents this revolution. Naturally the main focus is on Björk and the Sugarcubes, whose members were formerly in various notable underground bands such as Tappi Tíkarass, Purkur Pillnikk, Þeyr and Kukl. They would play at various events around the city, usually for no money, and try to sell their self produced albums on street corners while being ignored by passers by. Then in 1987 Birthday became single of the week in NME, and nothing would ever be the same. World domination seemed possible, even probable. Björk might have been the only one of the first wave who actually went on to achieve this, but at the exhibition we get to meet various other bands who could have, should have, might have, and even some who might still. And then of course, there´s Sigur Rós, the first band since the Cubes themselves to have managed a bone fide breakout.
The exhibition consists mostly of old pictures and posters, along with some odd items on display. One of these is the Regina doll seen in the video, another is the mock national costume designed by Bad Taste for the 50th Independence Anniversary in 1994. We also get to see a dress worn by Björk in concert, and the suits of the surf band Brim. Some of the events on the posters make you regret you weren’t there, such as a collaboration between Iceland’s greatest lyricist, Megas, and Kukl, featuring a young Björk. Another interesting event advertised is a blasphemy exhibition, featuring a poster of a priest sodomizing a cat. Perhaps this is something the Reykjavik Art Museum should look into reviving. The most surprising piece is a framed front page of Morgunblaðið showing the war criminals Ariel Sharon and Halldór Ásgrímsson shaking hands.
The exhibition as such is not very extensive but for those with plenty of time there is a constant loop of great Bad Taste related material on television, all subtitled and nicely placed in front of a couch.
The exhibition shows you what can be achieved by young people with big dreams in obscure places, even when demanding to do things on their own terms. But perhaps it is time for a new revolution to displace the old.
The second floor of the Museum holds an exhibition of the works of Erró, a painter from Ólafsvík who has lived most of his working life in France. This shows some of his war themed works, and is very timely. Most of the paintings are from 73-74, and show a brave and talented artist. There is a painting illustrating the coup in Chile which portrays a general riding a swastika bedecked axe, and millstones being placed around people’s necks so they can no longer walk upright. Another one shows an Israeli junta planning further wars of conquest, while a soldier greedily suckles a breast marked with a dollar sign. But Erró´s criticism works both ways, from a painting called CIA-KGB illustrating the similarities between the methods of the superpowers, to some newer work from the 1991 Persian Gulf War showing Iraqis being bombarded with consumerism, while Saddam Hussein wipes his ass on a UN resolution. Sadly, some of the conflicts Erró deals with are still ongoing, so the exhibition plays an important role in demonstrating to us how art can put things into perspective, sometimes more than we may feel entirely comfortable with.
The third exhibition is a collection of modern art, which is not something Grapevine pretends to understand.