From Iceland — Making Of An Artist: New Wave Cinema, Indie Rock And Art With Rakel Mjöll

Making Of An Artist: New Wave Cinema, Indie Rock And Art With Rakel Mjöll

Published August 8, 2018

Making Of An Artist: New Wave Cinema, Indie Rock And Art With Rakel Mjöll
Photo by
Joanna Kiely

Rakel Mjöll Leifsdóttir (pictured above, middle) is the singer of the UK/Icelandic band Dream Wife, as well as being a visual artist and more besides. We asked her to share some of her formative influences.

Agnes Varda – Ópera Mouffe
I did one semester of film studies, when I wasn’t sure what direction to take in my education. My mother said to me “Even though you don’t finish the degree, you’ll learn something.” She was right, and what I took from that was a new love and passion for European new wave cinema. My favourite director was Agnes Varda. A few years later I was studying performance art at the art University of Brighton. One day, to my surprise, I bumped into Agnes in the university corridors on my way to a lecture. Now a woman in her late 80s, she was there as part of the local art festival. She held my hand, gave me her time, and told me stories. She was one the reasons I was studying art in the first place. We said goodbye, and I cried in the elevator from the shock, and arrived very late—but glowing—to my lecture.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Maps
I remember hearing this song for the first time in my adolescence and felt a feeling I had never felt before when it came to music. The song just stayed with me after that. I waited in front of PoppTV for what seemed like hours for the music video to appear on the screen—oh, the days before YouTube. The video did the song justice with its subtlety and crashing waves of emotions.

The Strokes – Is this it?
This was one of the first CDs I bought as a pre-teen after hearing “Last Nite” on my sister’s iPod shuffle. It completely blew me away. Everyday I walked to school listening to ‘Is this it,’ until the CD was so scratched that I had to throw it away. The vocal and the guitar each have their own melodies that are ever-fluctuating whilst the bass and drums hold it down. The guitar and vocal are running a different path, and end up together. This mix excited me then, and excites me today.

My Family
I don’t know what I did in my past life to be born into a family with so much warmth and creativity. Theatre folks, musicians, dancers, writers, artists, engineers, teachers and forward thinking humans with the kindest of hearts. Family parties are always the best. Since I was little I’ve accompanied them to work, or worked with them or for them and seen all the hidden areas of the theatres of Reykjavik and heard so many incredible stories. Their presence and encouragement made me always feel like I could do anything, and there weren’t any boundaries. Here are my sisters and I in our uncle Ragnar Kjartansson’s piece ‘Song’ in Carnegie Hall in 2011.

Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller – Road Trip (2004)
I stumbled into this couple’s show on a trip to Vancouver. Every experiment I did at uni after was inspired by their artwork. In ‘Road Trip,’ the artists found a carousel of slides, mostly of empty landscapes, that originally belonged to George’s grandfather. His grandfather, whom he had never met, had travelled across Canada to meet with a doctor in New York for the cancer that he was dying from. The slides are projected onto a screen, while the speakers play the artists discussing the order and reason for the slides, trying to discover the mystery behind the images. The magic of what’s lying there in front of you, the mysteries, the stories from different sides or storytellers that tell more than what the images can show you.

Sophie Calle: Rachel Monique
Sophie Calle is another artist that looks for the meanings and clues about a life or moment of a family member. She creates works exploring the tensions between the observed, the reported, the secret and the unsaid. This collection of photographs and diary entries of Sophie Calle’s mother is a gem. A daughter reading her mother’s deepest secrets hidden in old diaries on her mother’s deathbed, by her own request. “My mother liked people to talk about her,” Sophie said of the work. “Her life did not appear in my work, and that annoyed her. When I set up my camera at the bottom of the bed in which she lay dying—fearing that she would pass away in my absence, whereas I wanted to be present and hear her last words—she exclaimed, ‘Finally.’”

Read more about Dream Wife here and read the makings of more artists here.

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