It is with great pleasure that Kling & Bang gallery, Reykjavík in collaboration with Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Vienna announces an exhibition of The Visitors by the Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson, which premiered in 2012 at the Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst in Zurich and is part of TBA21’s collection of contemporary art. The nine-channel video installation will now be shown in the artist run Kling & Bang gallery in Reykjavík, where Ragnar Kjartansson had his debut solo exhibition in 2003.
Ragnar Kjartansson’s The Visitors is a hymn to the feminine and its melancholic triumph, an incantation of friendship to the melody of romantic despair. The bohemian gathering of a group of friends and musicians in the grandiose and decaying twilight zone of Rokeby farm in Upstate New York becomes the scenery for what the artist calls a “feminine nihilistic gospel song”: a layered portrait of the artist’s friends and an exploration of musical cinema taking its title from ABBA’s last album which was marked by divorce and defeat. The Visitors will now be shown in Reykjavík, where the work is so deeply rooted. With the musicians coming from the Reykjavík music scene and the song set to lyrics assembled from poems by artist Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir, the piece becomes somewhat of a portrait of a certain generation of Reykjavík’s creative scene as well as individual portraits of the musicians. This cinematographic tableau in nine parts visualizes the performance of the profoundly melancholic tune in a long, uninterrupted, and repetitive 53-minute take with the main line repeated over and over again: Once again I fall into my feminine ways, followed by the more nihilistic verse: There are stars exploding around you, and there’s nothing you can do.
Set at the historic Rokeby Farm in Upstate New York, which is remarkable for its nearly untouched state and elegant disrepair, has been owned by the same family since 1813, spanning centuries of the development of American society. It used to be a center of power in America but the descendants of the Astor family now live there broke, creative and loving. The house could be called a castle of bohemia. Ragnar has stayed with the family in Rokeby farm several times in the past few years, developing a friendship with them that has grown alongside his fascination for the place itself.
History can be read from the household objects in Rokeby; flutes, canons, swords, books and paintings sprawled around the house, left there by individuals that have passed through the mansion over several centuries of the making of American society, tell stories of the War of Independence, the Civil war, the Boxer uprising, World War I, the construction of Manhattan, attempts at colonisation in Africa, the founding of the New York Public Library and the Edison grammophone among others.
The inhabitants put effort, passion and energy into tending to the Sisyphean task of maintaining the 43 room mansion and its estate while pursuing their own individual passions, be they of shamanism, espionage, erotic art, car fixing, puppetry, canon firing or whatnot - as well as always being ready to host the next community theater program, concert or spiritual rite. To honor their heritage the family never sells any of their art work, furniture or historical objects, thus creating a unique place where historical valueables are naturally mixed with daily modern life, forming a physical link to times passed.
It not only documents the space and alludes to its rich history, it documents a state of being at a given moment; the state of the place and the state this group of friends are in. The nine visitors take up various spaces indoors and out—the sitting room, the kitchen, the bathroom, the veranda—each one inhabiting a separate and very distinct setting, playing various instruments and singing, as if to themselves, the piece’s chorus. It is only in the synchronization of the nine channels that the voices and instruments merge into a harmonic orchestration.