Urban Nation (UN) and Iceland Airwaves Festival Create Mural Program
Sound and vision are inextricably bound in the modern music canon, with inspired visuals leading our auditory imaginations at least since Toulouse-Lautrec's depictions of Moulin Rouge orchestral and singing talents. Later illustrators were important for ushering us into the jazz era with snappy collage and geometrics for album covers and the birth of rock and roll expanded and shaped popular album-oriented daydreams. With every subsequent genre and subgenre of music from pop to rap to metal to disco and EDM, static and video artists continue to visually augment, interpret, define, and expand upon the music that we listen to.
This autumn in Iceland an equally inspired program pairing of 10 street artists with 10 musicians for the Airwaves music festival brought Reykjavik new murals from a mix of local and international artists. Since Iceland is the new Brooklyn, you'll like to see how Berlin's Urban Nation (UN) is precisely on top of something hot and icy with these eye-popping murals inspired by pace-setting modern sounds.
"I love music," says UN Director Yasha Young as she describes the process that she and Iceland Airwaves' Grímur Atlason and Henny Frímannsdottír went through to select music for their 1st edition of Wall Poetry. "We started to play our favorite bands from the lineup to each other, researched their album art, read their lyrics in great depth and watched all the video footage we could find," she explains.
"After that we decided who we thought would be interesting to approach for such a creative adventure. I know the artists I work with very well so it was more about listening to them and defining in more detail what the their individual ideas were for this project. The main goal for me was to pair them with the right collaborative partner musically and visually."
"With paintings in and around Reykjavik the artists had time to complete their walls in time for the 10 day music festival in November, drawing the attention of fans and locals who were interested in the artwork that is impacting their daily experience of the city. "The musicians were asked to provide the street artists with a song, lyrics or poetry especially chosen or written for this project," says curator Frímannsdottír on the site. "The visual artists were provided a city wall as surface for the large scale work."
Artist and musician collaborations for Wall Poetry include:
Ernest Zacharevic + Dikta, Caratoes + Ylja, Tankpetrol + GUS GUS, D*FACE + Laxdæla saga, Deih XLF + Vök, Telmo Miel + Mercury Rev, Li Hill + John Grant, ELLE + ÚlfurÚlfur, Evoca1 + Saun & Starr, and The Ugly Brothers + Gísli Pálmi.
We spoke to Yasha Young about the first year of Wall Poetry and the challenges of mounting a project like this:
Many people may not always make that connection.
To me it is so very important. I am a visual person to begin with but I think that it is vital as an individual who works with and for artists to work across genres and with as many different creative aspects as possible to be able to create one lasting and meaningful overall experience.
I remember buying LP's for their cover art and the stickers and zines that came with them. I remember Buzzocks's and The Ramones buttons and the silk printed posters by the Sex Pistols that came with the LP if memory serves me correctly. I think about The Rolling Stones "Some Girls" sliding cover and the art for Pink Floyds 'The Wall' and the "Led Zeppelin III" album with its rotating cover art that you could interact with.
And of course music videos became huge productions; actually they are little films that often connect with you on an even deeper level and enhance your experience of the music. Videos were launch pads for creative careers and massive innovations; for example Peter Gabriel's 'Sledgehammer', 'Cry' by Godley and Crème, Gorillaz' 'Clint Eastwood', Radiohead's 'No Surprises', and my all-time favorite song and visuals combination was Radiohead's 'Street Spirit'. Of course as we speak I'm thinking also about Iceland's Björk and her video for ' Human Behaviour" and John Grant and Tate Shots collaboration... I could go on and on.
"Mothrider" is inspired by the lyrics of Mercury Rev for "Moth Light":
If, if I was a moth I'd fly to the light in you And if, if I was lost I'd lose myself in you
Planets line up in the sky Feel the waves go rushing by Let's just give it one more try Ain't got nothing to lose."
(Young, continued) In my career I've had the great pleasure to be part of making album art happen for bands, such as KORN's 'Untitled' for example. I worked with many bands on that creative level and it only deepened my connection and convictions when it came to art and music. Today we have a one-click behavior for experiencing streaming music that almost reminds me a little of when video killed the radio star. There is an essential part of the experience that is fading and we feed it with the "instant buy".
I believe that we are losing more than 'just' the record store and the poster art or album cover. We are losing an essential and lasting connection that came with the purchase of the record or CD but was established long before; the multi-faceted creation of the entire visual aspect. You became part of a creative baseline and connected to the music through the visual work. Reading the lyrics as audio poetry on the back sleeve or the LP or interacting with the music and the art made it a much more lasting and impressive experience in my view. This is just the surface of what I think and would like to explore even further and on a deeper level next year when we return for the 2nd edition of Wall Poetry.
What inspired you to start the project?
I am always inspired by new opportunities to bring together different artistic genres and unusual or challenging - but always exciting - new venues. I had been visiting Iceland Airwaves for many years and finally decided last year to find walls and spaces and to connect with the Iceland Airwaves crew.
My idea was to visually prolong the reach of the music and bring it onto the walls through well-conceptualized and executed art pieces. In a way I wanted to re-connect two entities that have always been vital and necessary for each other in a public space, with music and art spilling out of the concert venues onto the streets and into the lives of people.
It was almost like we were going to extend the music, with the core idea being "We paint the music you love to hear". Once that was established as the core of the project I very quickly had an idea of which visual artists would be not only be a great fit for the city and the project but also who would be able to work in rather unusual and unknown conditions - namely, the Icelandic weather, and I say this with great fondness for those wild and unpredictable skies.
How did you choose the lyrics? Was it a difficult process?
Actually I only picked the bands and visual artists. It was more about creating and encouraging the connection between both of these groups to get their beautiful creative minds talking together. Once connected they picked songs and talked about their choices in depth. I was a bystander, a very curious fly on the wall and following the process was simply amazing. To read the exchanges and feel the moment the spark ignited - that moment to me is, and will always be, what marks true curatorial success and is key to all collaborative creative projects.
Elle was inspired by the song "Tuttugu og Eitthvað" by Úlfur Úlfur
Were there any challenges along the way? Specifically regarding logistics.
[Laughs] Yes! Many many many - but less in the actual execution of the vision and more in the daily production. For example the wind picks up and the mechanical lifts start swaying in the wind like a leaf. It was "Safety first" of course so we had to stop working immediately. Often the rain can be surprising and torrential and water runs down the walls like little waterfalls washing all the hard work from the night before off the wall again. But these artists are professionals and in my job the goal is to work as innovatively as possible - always finding or inventing new methods and finding other options.
It's part of the journey and it can actually be fun. For my stubborn mind the only factor that will always be in way is time - we have not found a way to stop it or make more of it.
Deih took inspiration from Icelandic band Vok Music's song "Waterfall" for this mural.
Li-Hill worked in collaboration with John Grant and his song "Pale Green Ghosts" for this mural.
Caratoes took inspiration to paint this whole house from the lyrics of the song "Ode To a Mother"by Icelandic band Ylja.
D*Face depicts the Icelandic saga of Laxdaela; a tale of love, betrayal and intrigue.
Lithuania's Ernest Zacharevic transformed the shadow of an earlier building into a personal photo book. Wall Poetry-Urban Nation in collaboration with Iceland Air Waves. Reykjavik, Iceland. October, 2015. (photo © Nika Kramer)
"It's inspired by the song 'I Miss You' by Dikta," says Ernest. "The image has the same sadness and nostalgia in the photographs that I felt in the piano track song. The work is my imagining of all the past scenarios that could have happened in this old heritage house, physically and emotionally being taken down and rebuilt.
It's more about memory because after I spoke to a lot of locals they were very nostalgic about how Reykjavik used to be, not so keen on how modernized it has become."
Tank Petrol's modern take on the myth of Freya, considered to be the mother goddess of Love and Beauty.
Evoca One. Process shot. Wall Poetry-Urban Nation in collaboration with Iceland Air Waves. Reykjavik, Iceland. October, 2015. (photo © Nika Kramer)
Evoca One tells the story of the Sauna and Starr song "Gonna Make Time" about home and returning to those waiting on shore.
Our special thanks to photographer Nika Kramer for sharing her amazing shots with BSA readers.
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