An interview with the MoMS boys
Mundi (Guðmundur Hallgrímsson) and Morri (Friðrik Sigurðarson) started working together in 2006, when they met at the Iceland Academy of the Arts. They formed a group called MoM, which later became MoMS when their American classmate, Schuyler, joined them. After teaming up with Gelitin, a group of four Austrian artists, MoMS began travelling the world, and have since performed at the Venice Biennale, Torino’s Artissima, London’s Frieze Art Fair and New York’s Deitch Projects.
MoMS is a versatile group and expresses itself in various ways, through sculpture and painting as well as performance art. As it happens, Mundi also works closely with his real mom. Together they run the Mundi fashion label and clothing boutique on Laugavegur. However, MoMS operates independently of Mundi’s fashion line and, as the group explains, the acronym is somewhat accidental: “Everyone loves their mothers of course… but we could have just as well been called PoPS, if our names were Peter and Paul. Our fathers are also great.”
Although MoMS’ work is often a collective effort involving various friends and family, their most recent exhibition at Kling & Bang Gallery, ‘Installation Penetration,’ was largely the result of collaboration between Mundi, Morri, and Raggi (Ragnar Fjalar Lárusson). It focuses on a style of painting they call ‘overkill.’ We caught up with the group for an interview.
Penetration’ seems to have several components; the styrofoam statues, the pornographically reworked romance novel covers, the graffiti style canvases, and―
Morri: The what?
Mundi: [laughing] Graffiti style?
Morri: We just have graffiti elements there to make fun of them; we don’t like graffiti that much, so we are making fun of it.
Mundi: We call it the overkill.
Ok, sorry, you have the overkill canvases, and then the videos and media section, but is there something that ties all these elements together?
Mundi and Morri: The overkill.
Mundi: Reworking every object.
And what’s the difference between graffiti and overkill?
Mundi: We may use markers like in graffiti, but we use a lot of mixed materials, acrylic paint more than spray paint…
Morri: …accidentally spilled water, stickers, or stuff I might find on the street.
Mundi: We don’t have to be so hard on graffiti either. Of course, there is a connection, but that’s not what our stuff is.
Morri: It is partly a common drawing style that is familiar to our generation—I mean anyone born between 1970 and 1990—and partly our own style. It’s a mixture, a soup, everything goes in it, graffiti as well. I tag MoMS in one picture.
Is there something you are trying to kill?
Mundi: White space.
Morri: Yes, white space and [the canon] of art history, that is, general thoughts about what art is. We don’t like it.
What don’t you like?
Is there any art movement in particular that you don’t like?
Mundi: I’m really tired of minimalism… Every exhibition I go to is white space with small pieces of art spread around a giant room.
The exhibition seems to be concerned with process, especially the overkill canvases, but what is the relationship between process and end result?
Mundi: It’s not so concrete. We don’t sit down and think ‘now we’re going to draw the end of the world.’ We sometimes begin without discussing anything beforehand and then we end up with a picture, and the ideas either match or they don’t match. Sometimes we discuss during the process, and decide to make something specific, ‘this will be an end of the world drawing’ or ‘this will be a face or an alien.’ The discussion may happen during the process but definitely not before. We don’t do sketch work before starting.
In terms of aesthetics, those styrofoam statues do not seem to be appealing to any conventional sense of beauty, and it appears as if they were thrown together haphazardly. Do they represent a form of anti-art?
Mundi: That’s a big part of what we are doing, throwing things together haphazardly, but that doesn’t have to be a negative thing. When you work with styrofoam and hot wire, you don’t have any second chances, the hot wire goes in and comes out, and there is a piece. It’s trash material and it’s supposed to be trashy… the paintings are also full of trash, it’s just trash being piled on top of the paper, so much so that it starts looking beautiful in the end… I’m so tired of this concept of art that says everything has to contain an answer. You can draw one black line and as long as the answer and static behind it is good enough, then it’s ok. But that’s taking all the fun and beauty out of art and making it boring.
What role does irony play in your work?
Morri: It plays a big role, but sometimes people can misunderstand our intentions. Sometimes there are swastikas or racism or personal shit—sometimes we draw a bad picture of a person that we might love or hate.
Mundi: That’s where stream of consciousness comes into play—getting everything out of your system, and not in a bad way. Drawing a swastika doesn’t mean we are actually Nazis; it just has to come out for some reason.
Morri: We’d like to believe that nothing is forbidden.
MoMS also expresses itself through, often violent, performance art, such as the ‘piss and cum’ performance, where you pissed and puked on each other while erecting a 10 metre high wooden structure, or the ‘bar fight’ you enacted during the resurrection of Sirkús in London. Is MoMS working out certain anger issues in these performances?
Morri: I don’t think so. I mean with ‘piss and cum,’ it wasn’t just a performance, we were also building a huge structure and we did drawings and graphic design. And at Frieze, we painted the front of Sirkús. I also played music. Also, we did a pizza place performance once, which was super friendly and family oriented and we made a balloon tower in Venice and part of the idea was just to get people to smile.
Part of us is performance, part of us is clothes, part of us is graphic design. But the work we have done up until now is mostly drawing and sculpture.
I understand there may be lots of other things going on, but now I’m asking about the violent aspect of your performances.
Mundi: I think what Frikki [Morri] hates about performance is that it evokes superficiality in a lot of people’s minds, but I don’t think performance is necessarily superficial. Also, we have to agree, which is definitely a puzzle, because of course we don’t have the same opinions on life. So agreeing definitely forms part of the identity of the final idea of our work. Regarding the violent aspect, we want to involve the whole spectrum, so we have happiness and violence.
And on the other side of the spectrum, is there a politics behind the more playful acts, such as the bicycle you hung over Laugavegur or the balloon worm you presented to Ragnar Kjartansson at the 2009 Venice Biennale?
Morri: That is much more important, the fun rather than the violence. I link the bike and balloon tower to fantasy. The bike belonged to our friend Finnbogi. The tire had burst seven times and so it was put in a cellar over the winter. Then we decided to put it in the air, maybe because of E.T. In another way, it represents a challenge to try to make something beautiful.
Mundi: We like to start on things we cannot predict where they are going to lead us. But then you get yourself in the unenviable position of having to fill balloons forever.
Do you, Mundi, approach your fashion line in the same way as you approach visual and performance arts?
Yes, I would say my line in the fashion world is the same genre as MoMS’ stuff in the visual arts world. I have not yet used any of the [MoMS] drawings for [clothing] prints, but we have been talking about introducing some of the MoMS stuff to the brand. I think the creative world is controlled in large part by fear, fear of being neglected and consequently, fear of doing something different. And this fear will make everything black and serious, and like we said, superficial and minimalist.