“I just ate a sandwich, is that art?” That’s not, perhaps, a question that plagues everyone in the art world but one which Iceland’s Curver Thoroddsen, based in ReykjavÌk, founded a career on. He integrates daily life, namely notions of identity and the media, into his practice to interrogate what more generally translates to, “what makes it art?”. Thorodssen eats a hamburger, watches TV and opens a Puffin pizza parlour, punningly-titled ‘Sliceland’, in a Nordic lighthouse and its considered art. He can sleep nude, throw a kid’s party and have a yard sale on a gallery floor or name himself after a trash can and its part of an externally identified movement called “relational aesthetics”, a term coined by French critic Nicolas Bourriaud.
Basically, it’s the idea that the artwork requires an audience to qualify as just that, but then there have been times that Curver has wound-up eating at a restaurant without a camera in his face and others, where he and a friend have been doing the identical action but he’s the artist and his friend isn’t. Curver is well aware of the contradictions and its something that he tells his listeners, mostly young, yet-to-start-emerging artists in the remote town of Seyðisfjörður in East Iceland where he’s speaking on ‘Creative Energy and Culture’ at LungA. It’s a dynamic week-long festival that works across disciplines, encourages interaction and, evidently, allows for Curver to characteristically dismiss his segment as, “a bullshit title to scare away some people”.
The artist and musician -with his roots in punk (hence the bin brand-cum-universally accepted alias) and a key role in confrontational, experimental duo, with early Sugarcube and Björk collaborator Einar Örn Benediktsson, Ghostigital -is an early adopter of media culture as the core of his practice. As advertising, marketing and identity becomes the key focus of some of the most interesting artists around today, like Babak Radboy and Jaakko Pallasvuo, Curver was watching infomercials on loop as part of a performance/installation during Dumbo Arts Festival in 2010 and sending postcards to strangers updating them on the progress of his diet regime.
Here, the reaction is as important as the intention and the fact that Iceland was plunged into grave financial crisis not long after gallery-goers paid huge sums of money for his old junk in 2008 is lost on nobody (“these people brought down Iceland by spending all their money on crap”). It’s all jokes, of course, but with a powerful truth that underscores all of Curver’s work, which he describes as a “filter, or a mirror” of the culture around us. Fittingly, conversation soon descends into discussion over the merits of Adam Sandler films, apparently his favourite subject, in relation to composer John Cage’s ever-so-boring fascination with mushrooms as Curver illustrates the influence and effect of popular culture, the media and notions of national identity on our personal lives. Basically, the construction of our outer world is as effective in shaping our minds as our inner one, however “low brow” we consider them to be. As Curver assures me in a follow-up email, “nothing wrong with the Sandler. Should be taught in every art program ;-D” **