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Ragnar Kjartansson's 'Visitors' – my highlight of 2014 thumb

Ragnar Kjartansson's 'Visitors' – my highlight of 2014

Ragnar Kjartansson, The Visitors, 2012, still, Nine channel HD video projection, 64 min. Courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York, and i8 Gallery, Reykjavik
Ragnar Kjartansson, The Visitors, 2012, still, Nine channel HD video projection, 64 min. Courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York, and i8 Gallery, Reykjavik

During November’s study visit to the Artes Mundi festival in Cardiff I was fortunate enough to experience Ragnar Kjartansson’s nine screen video installation at Turner House Gallery in Penarth.
You can watch a video of Kjartansson discussing the work here.
Anyone fammiliar with the Vicorian gallery would be impressed by the transformation of the space, which involved (in addition to the screens, projectors and speakers) the removal of a central first-floor ballustrade – hidden temporary behind a false wall – and lining the generous space with acoustic friendly black carpet.
The Visitors is an hour long recital of song by eight individual musicians, each performing in a room of a grand nineteenth century mansion in the Hudson Valley, New York state. The house has, we imagine, witnessed countless parties and heddy gathering, and put up the kinds of historical figures we’d love to invite to a fantasy dinner party. On one of the screens, from the comfort of a bathtub, the artist begins strumming a guitar and squeezing out a high pitched husky melody. Then, on the other seven screens, the rest of the musicians gradually accompany him. The nineth screen shows the exterior of the house, and the production team singing along with the performance, and – yes, random I know – canon fire to puncuate the longest dips in the song’s oscillations.
The bathtub asside, the installation reflects how much contemporary music is recorded nowadays: comartmentalised performances that come together roughly in the musician’s headphones as they play and on the editor’s monitors, and then; with some polishing and tweaking (not always of course) ends up in a sterophonic recording for the listener. The Visitors exposes that process and offers the installation visitors the opportunity to hear the music in a truly delightful, nine-part surround sound experience. The tune was nice, but the way it sounded was a real marvel for me.
An hour is a pretty long time to sit (altually most people were sprawled) through a video installation, however, the nunaces of each performer, and the opportunity to regard different musicans at different points, and to move closer so their instument is more prominent within the sonic tableau, provided a dynamic viewing and listening experience. In many respects The Visitors is a ridiculous piece of work: an ultra-romanticised, over-the-top, rock ‘n’ roll (but in a nice way) fantasy. Towards the end of the piece – as the day is also beginning to end – a naked woman emerges from beneath the covers of one of the electic guitarist’s bed and casually slips on a flimsy night dress, as if to say “is it really time to get up now?!” She makes he way downstairs to the grand pinao in the the drawing room, where the rest of the the musicians begin to congregate, celebrate with Champage and then – actually – skip off to the sunset still singing the song’s repeated motif “once again I fall into my feminie ways.”
I know: utterly ridiculous.
There is more to The Visitors than aesthetic indulgence alone. But frankly I wasn’t, and I’m still not, all that bothered about the work’s more complex layers of meaning. The work didn’t provoke me intellectually; it didn’t unsettle me; and it didn’t particulalry challege me. For a change, I was completely content with allowing myself to be absorbed into the artist’s world.
What’s wrong with letting yourself dream from time to time?
Merry Christmas and a Happy 2015 x
The Visitors continues at Ffotogallery until February 21. 2015

Posted by author: Jesse
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