RAFSKINNA #2 - The Reykjavik Grapevine

RAFSKINNA #2

RAFSKINNA #2

Published March 19, 2010

Rass & Birgir Andrésson congratulate each other with a brass band

Rass & Birgir Andrésson congratulate each other with a brass band

This month Rafskinna offers on its webpage a quite unique collaboration between artist Birgir Andrésson and the punk band Rass, performing a classic Eurovision song with a brass band.

The collaboration was an initiative of Kitchen Motors, a think-tank/art collective that has had a special talent for creating a fruitful collaboration between artists of different spectrums and fields something that has resulted in such wondrous things as Apparat Organ Quartet and the Helvítis guitar symphony.

“Congratulations and celebrations. When I tell everyone that you’re in love with me.”
Birgir had the idea of mixing the punk band with a children’s brass band and for them to perform the song Congratulations (originally performed by Sir Cliff Richard in the 1968 Eurovision song contest).

The video piece is a recording of the only practice the parties involved underwent before their performance at the Living Art Museum in late 2005. The practice takes place in the bit tight and claustrophobic practice space inside the Hljómskála building in the garden of the same name by the Reykjavík pond. Along with Rass, the performance comprises Skólahljómsveit Vesturbæjar conducted by Lárus Grímsson and Birgir Andrésson and artist Daníel Björnsson, whose sole role seems to be to carry the drinks for Birgir.

At the end of the rehearsal, Birgir is so happy with the outcome that he shouts out: “You are all champions. Just name a place where you want to play next and I will arrange it!” One of the kids in the brass bands answers  “Laugardalshöllin”.  A few weeks later, Rass had the opportunity to play Laugardalshöllin, the national sport arena that hosts many of the bigger pop gigs in Reykjavík. It felt appropriate to carry out the wish of the member of the brass band for another rendition of Congratulations.

Judging by the music and the attitude of Rass, one is tempted to think that they date from the heydays of punk. The band, though, has been sporadically active since the early ‘90s and is based around the same core of musicians that made up bands such as Funkstrasse and the legendary HAM.
Rass’ only output to date is the album Andstaða (“Resistance”) from 2004, an album so rudimentary punk that the third chord is barely audible, and apart from the epic Lífsflótti and the ultra power-balladic Bræður, no song thereon breaks the 2 minute punk barrier. In complete coherence to its title, Andstaða is also politically defiant and the issue-orientated lyrics challenge subjects like the Icelandic fishing system, the incompetence of Alþingi’s Ombudsman and the biggest injustice of them all… injustice itself.

“Congratulations and jubilations, I want the world to know I’m happy as can be.”
Birgir Andrésson was born in the Westman Islands, an archipelago off the south coast of Iceland, in 1955.  A shaping factor in Birgir’s upbringing and his perspective on life and art was the fact that he was raised by blind parents. Therefore Birgir grew up as a sighted person with parents who were not, and his works often reflects on this “blind reality”. Birgir’s art mostly dealt with Icelandic cultural heritage and identity in general, although his focus was usually on the microhistorical and the marginal.

While Birgir’s life and art faced toward the periphery, his legacy as an artist in Iceland after his death in 2007 has become quite central. This is especially evident in the influential position he seems to hold among the younger generation of Icelandic artists, many of whom befriended and/or studied under him. The Icelandic representative at the Venice biennale in 2009 (Birgir represented Iceland in 1995), Ragnar Kjartansson, dedicated his catalogue to the memory of Birgir and another artist of the same generation, Birta Guðjónsdóttir, remembered Birgir with those fervent words in an article in Sjónauki Art Magazine:

“Those who knew the late Icelandic artist Birgir Andrésson and his works are rich in spirit. Birgir was an unusual person, a novelistic character, a troll, a charmer. His art has the power to blow you up in pieces and the subtle poesy to glue you back together again, along with some parts of your cultural heritage that you might not have felt connected to before”

A full feature documentary on the life and art of Birgir is now in the making by filmmaker Kristján Loðmfjörð. Titled Þjóðarþel, the film is a portrait of the artist and the stories behind his works and how the two reflect on each other.

Rafskinna is an Icelandic DVD magazine that includes documentaries, short films, music performances and other visual art material. Rafskinna focuses on the vibrant Icelandic art scene and may be found in book and record shops around Reykjavík. The videos mentioned in this month’s Rafskinna column may be viewed at www.rafskinna.com

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