The Visitors, one of the most significant works by Ragnar Kjartansson (Reykjavík, 1976), will be on view from September 19 to November 17, 2013 in the monumental industrial space of HangarBicocca in Milan. The exhibition is curated by Andrea Lissoni and Heike Munder (Director of the Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst in Zurich).
This is the first exhibition of the curatorial program drawn up by Vicente Todolí, recently appointed artistic advisor for HangarBicocca. The project was also chosen in light of Dieter Roth and Björn Roth’s upcoming show, opening November 6 in the space. “Ragnar Kjartansson has a strong biographical tie with Dieter Roth and his family,” explains HangarBicocca’s curator Andrea Lissoni. “Kjartansson’s grandfather was one of Dieter Roth’s closest friends and had a collection of his works. This legacy had an influence on Kjartansson’s multidisciplinary, ever-evolving approach to making art.” Creating a dialogue among the different exhibitions at HangarBicocca is one of the principles that will drive the space’s artistic program in future years.
The Visitors is being shown in Milan thanks to the support of Pirelli, Founding Member and Promoter of the Fondazione HangarBicocca. The meeting of different art forms, music and visual art, theater and performance, and the coexistence of "high" and "popular" culture, is a reflection of Pirelli’s attitude toward a multidisciplinary approach to culture and research, one that has always focused on opening up to the community and bringing together different fields of knowledge, research, and innovation.
Moreover, this project is also capable of involving, with its different languages, various audiences—from music lovers to theater and cinema-goers, as well as those with an interest in contemporary art—reflecting HangarBicocca’s ongoing effort to broaden its art audience and also bring new inspiration and ideas to the general public.
The Visitors exhibition gives the public an opportunity to experience an important contemporary art project, capable of involving the audience in an emotional, musical, and visual experience unlike any other. The installation has already been seen in international institutions and galleries—the Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst in Zurich in 2012, which commissioned it, the Luhring Augustine Gallery in New York, and TBA21 Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary in Vienna in 2013—arousing great interest, both critical and public.
With its title and concept inspired by the last album of the Swedish group ABBA, The Visitors offers a reflection on the theme of the power and persistence of affective ties and of the melancholy and romanticism that are typical of the artist's Nordic culture. Music is a fundamental element in all the artist's work and, as Kjartansson himself says, it is used as "an almost sculptural element." Composed by the artist himself for the poem entitled Feminine Ways by his former wife, the performer Asdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir, the soundtrack alternates powerful and subdued sounds.
The work consists of nine videos on a scale of 1:1, in which the audience sees different musicians, all friends of Kjartansson's (including Kristín Anna and Gyða Valtýsdóttir, founding sisters of the historic Icelandic band Mùm, and Kjartan Sveinsson, keyboard player until 2012 with the famous Sigur Rós). For over an hour, the musicians, each with a different instrument, sing and play the same melody of a song called Feminine Ways. The nine scenes are set in the many rooms of the large, dilapidated nineteenth-century Rokeby Farm in upstate New York. The nine audio and video tracks were made separately but are shown together on large screens. The display has been specially designed by the artist and curators to emphasize the visual and audio elements of the work. The audience is thus placed at the center of a continuous, choral piece.
Ragnar Kjartansson's performance work embraces the entire spectrum of the arts, from theater to music, through to sculpture and the visual arts. His love of acting and stage productions is characteristic of all his work. He creates performances which he sometimes turns into video installations and in which he often plays the part of paradoxical characters. His work combines fact, fiction, and myths of contemporary culture, in shows that have a hypnotic effect and always border between mysticism and parody.
The Visitors is being show in cooperation with Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst.
Ragnar Kjartansson and Music
Right from the outset, Ragnar Kjartansson, one of the most highly acclaimed artists of his generation, has experimented with music while working with art.
His very close involvement with the music scene, which comes partly from his family background, led him as a teenager to form a number of bands. In 2001 he joined Trabant, a pop rock band with which he later made records and gave concerts. Kjartansson famously took part in Performa in 2011, during which he presented Bliss, a performance that earned him the Malcolm McLaren Award.
The title of the piece The Visitors is derived from the 1981 album The Visitors by Swedish pop band ABBA; the album was to be the group’s final record as divorce and internal strain ended their collaboration. The artist explains the link: "Over the years, I've often taken inspiration from ABBA's music, in which I find a profound melancholy beneath the sumptuous show-biz veneer of their story. The Visitors takes inspiration from their last album: in both cases there is talk of divorce and isolation (the cover shows the group in an old abandoned house), and of sensational defeats: one has the feeling that all is about to change."