Luhring Augustine is currently exhibiting “The Visitors,” a nine-channel video installation by artist Ragnar Kjartansson, a musician and artist living and working in the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik. As a member of the group Trabant, Kjartansson pushes the boundaries between electronic rock and performance while working in multiple media formats, focusing primarily on various aspects of performance.
Kjartansson has made a noticable impact in the contemporary art world during the past several years. His first solo show in America was held 2011 at Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, titled “Ragnar Kjartansson: Song,” showcasing a selection of his video works. This show also traveled to Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami and is now on view at Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. His twelve hour loop of the final aria of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, titled Bliss (2011), also won Performa’s 2011 Malcolm McLaren Award. Bliss was also showcased at Art Basel Miami Beach’s 2012 Video Nights. He was the youngest artist ever to represent Iceland in the 2009 Venice Biennale, spending the entire run of the Biennale in a 14th century palazzo painting portraits of a friend. Kjartansson also has frequently been showcased in various museum shows, art and music festivals in his home country.
Those in attendance at last year’s Armory Show may recall Kjartansson’s 40-foot pink neon sculpture, prominently showcased above the champagne bar, spelling out the words ”Scandinavian Pain” as part of the fair’s Focus: Nordic. This showcasing of a Scandinavian sociological phenomena; a slightly mocking yet playful presentation of heartfelt emotion, is typical of Kjartansson’s work.
“The Visitors,” marks Kjartansson’s second solo-show at the gallery. The work takes its name from Swedish pop-band ABBA’s final record. The piece is a single-take production in which Kjartansson has assembled a group of close friends and fellow musicians to perform a “feminine nihilistic gospel song.” Created in collaboration with Davíð Þór Jónsson and Kjartansson’s ex-wife, Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir, the piece was shot at the romantic, run-down estate house of Rokeby Farm in the Hudson Valley. Each performer is placed in a different room of the mansion, and the song is mixed off-camera, coming together in the dark gallery space. Another channel shows the exterior of the house at an angle by the veranda picking up the surrounding sounds of nature as well as music. The owners of Rokeby farm also figure in the piece, highlighting their own state as “visitors,” on the centuries old estate.
The organizational and ideological premises of the “The Visitors” are fine-tuned down to the smallest detail, unsurprising when one consider’s Kjartansson’s background, growing up with two parents working in the theater. The slow-paced, repetitive piece delivers on its promises as a captivating ensemble performance instilling feelings of joy as well as tragedy, and invoking thoughts of the individual between feelings of loneliness and community.
The Visitors is on view at Luhring Augustine 531 West 24th Street New York until March 16, 2013.
—Anna Mikaela Ekstrand