Ragnar Kjartansson: The Visitors

January 21 - April 30, 2023

Through elements of theatre, music, and visual art, Ragnar Kjartansson creates performances in which he explores the intertwining of pathos, humour, and collective emotion by testing the limits of repetition and the endurance of both performers and audience.

The Visitors is a large sound and video installation consisting of nine audio and video channels that document a single-take musical performance. Running for just under an hour, the work depicts eight musicians performing the same melody of a song called “Feminine Ways,” based on a poem of the same name by artist Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir. The musicians, all friends of Kjartansson’s—including Kristín Anna and Gyða Valtýsdóttir, founding sisters of the historic Icelandic band Múm; Kjartan Sveinsson, keyboard player until 2012 with the famous Sigur Rós; and composer and frequent collaborator Davíð Þór Jónsson—each sing and play a different instrument, isolated yet in unison.

The work is set in a large, dilapidated, nineteenth- century estate—Rokeby Farm—in upstate New York, with each performer occupying a separate room of the mansion. The audio and video tracks were recorded individually but are shown together in such a way that the audience is placed at the center of a continuous choral piece, a dynamic and moving ensemble performance that Kjartansson refers to as a “feminine nihilistic gospel song.” Music is a fundamental element in all the of artist’s work and here, as Kjartansson himself says, it is used as “an almost sculptural element.” Through its unique arrangement of music in space, The Visitors creates a layered portrait of the house and its musical inhabitants.

With its title and concept inspired by the last album (before their nearly 40-year hiatus) of the Swedish group ABBA, The Visitors offers a reflection on the themes of the strength and persistence of affective ties; of friendship, love, and loss; and of the melancholy and romanticism of life.

Featuring: Ragnar Kjartansson, Shahzad Ismaily, Davíð Þór Jónsson, Kristín Anna Valtýsdóttir, Kjartan Sveinsson, Þorvaldur Gröndal, Ólafur Jónsson, and Gyða Valtýsdóttir.

Collection of the Gund Gallery at Kenyon College, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston.

The Visitors is presented as part of Calgary Folk Music Festival’s 8th Annual BLOCK HEATER Music Festival, 9-12 February 2023.  Join us for a special celebratory event on Thursday 9 February, 7-9pm at Esker Foundation.

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