From Iceland — Rafskinna


Published July 27, 2007


Rafskinna, Iceland’s first magazine in DVD format, is a beautifully packaged, attractive collectible. Beyond the 2½ hours of (mostly unseen) footage and16-page printed octavo, it boasts such treasures as a poster, a matchbook, a fly lure and a 1 ISK coin. It’s an object that you want to own and it’s a fantastic idea.

With any new publication (however unorthodox) the challenge is with originality and quality. Rafskinna’s very format ensures a certain level of originality and the reputation of many of the artists included suggests high quality, but this first issue suffers from two essential flaws.

Firstly, despite the declared theme of this issue (fish) the selection and ordering of the pieces feels random. The fact also that only half of the 14 videos bears any relation to the chosen theme undercuts the purpose of having one at all.

Secondly, much of the material comes across as self-referential. This is a project born from the heart of Reykjavík’s young art scene, and while no one doubts the vibrancy of the scene it’s fair to question its consistency. The standard of work in Rafskinna is hugely variable and I found myself wondering who had made the selection of pieces included and according to what criteria. For anyone with a passing familiarity with the ‘scene’ there are many familiar faces (Björk of course, but also GusGus, Hugleikur Dagsson, Ghostigital, Skakkamanage and others,) it was frustrating to find that many of these artists seemed to have been included just because they are the so-called pillars of the scene rather than because their particular piece was relevant to the creative scope of this first issue.

Interestingly, the pieces that this viewer found most appealing were pieces that adhered most closely to the declared theme. Rass’ wonderful punk-rock anthem ‘Burt með kvóttann’ (Down With The Quota) is a catchy, tongue-in-cheek gem; Finnur Arnar’s contemplative ‘Þorskur/Cod’ is a beautiful meditation on death and fishing; and Kristján Loðmfjörð’s ‘Hvalalíf’ (an 8 minute remix of Þráinn Bertelsson’s ‘Dala Líf’) is a provocative, witty and vividly edited piece of narrative video art. Also worthy of note are Ben Frost’s ‘Forgetting you is like breathing water’ and Inga Birgirsdóttir’s four short video pieces, as well as Gunnar Þór Vilhjálmsson and Siggi Eggert’s striking artwork design.

As far as the accompanying octavo pamphlet is concerned, the people I spoke to who translated it for me (it’s almost exclusively in Icelandic) agreed that the Pisces horoscope, the Zarzuela recipe and the various fish-related vignettes running the circumference of the page were the most entertaining elements.

If Rafskinna’s mandate is to ‘serve a fresh, meaty plate of what’s happening in music, design, film and visual art in Iceland and elsewhere’ (as their myspace page suggests), then it may be relevant to ask what or who the intended audience is, as this question will help define the publication’s full potential scope.

While there is much to criticise here, there is also much to encourage and praise. This is a valuable, challenging project that should be promoted and supported – a more rigorous selection process and stricter adherence to the magazine’s own creative mandate will, I believe, produce valuable, exciting future editions. I very much look forward to Rafskinna – Issue 2.

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