The Palace of the Summerland, 2014

Photo: Irina Gavrich/ TBA21

Multimedia Installation consisting of various film sets, props, paintings and dailies
Dimensions site specific
Commissioned by Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary

Ragnar Kjartansson and Friends The Palace of the Summerland is a multi-layered work created by Kjartansson in collaboration with over twenty talented artists, musicians, family members and friends while residing in TBA21's Augarten exhibition space for a durational performance throughout the month of April 2014.

A monumental and megalomanic effort, The Palace of the Summerland consists of the adaptation of 81 scenes and scenery emulating the spectrum of Icelandic terrain "frosted glaciers, lush hills, landscapes dotted with wooden cabins, the all-important nautical sets" from a pivotal work as described in that of Nobel Laureate Halldor Laxness: World Light. Created with bare hands and raw materials, the Augarten pavillion literally became a manic workshop in which elaborate recreations of poetic visions of Iceland were drafted and mounted. Backdrops painted with an exact mood in mind; sumptuous and visually enticing set of backgrounds, hand-painted by the cast on-site with the help of local students. An arrangement of props, costumes and sets, the remnants of Kjartansson's performance alludes to the intersectional nature of both film and theater, acting and performance, and is evidence of the durational work which was co-commissioned by TBA21 and Fundación Jumex Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico.

Laden with cultural and historical significance, the story of World Light and it's intrepid protaganist Ólafur Kárason provide a seemingly overwhelming saga of despair and drama, uniquely reinterpreted by Kjartansson and his Friends. Originally published between 1937-1940, World Light is a mainstay of Icelandic literary talent and reaches far beyond the tale of one single, lost individual. It embraces poetry and love as life's major tenets, infusing monumental concepts with what seem to be minute instances in a single individual's life. Ólafur, unfavoured and unliked, attempt to rectify his unfavorable circumstances by truly embedding himself within the beauty of words and poetry. Through the ebb and flow of the story, Ólafur poignantly overcomes his troubled life in an inspiring, if not miraculous way. With both Kjartansson and his Friends playing an assigned (sometimes numerous) roles, The Palace of the Summerland as a performance was a testament to the ability to embody both roles and emotions. As the performance progressed, so did the number of scenes completed by the cast, slowly treading towards an active interpretation of the novel.

The Palace of the Summerland celebrates the ingenuity of collective artistic triumph in the face of an impossible task. Relics of the month-long exhibit, which visitors could also experience, remain in place as they were. The raw materials used to create a dynamic and epic performance mirroring its literary counterpart lay still, but exude a sense of experience and sensitivity while still harbored in the Augarten space. With nothing hidden throughout the performance "with crowds of visitors having passed through daily, and often repeatedly" the stable, exhibition view of The Palace of the Summerland is not entirely dissimilar from its former display, only rather than an accoutrement to the performance, it now embodies and preserves it.

The special nature of The Palace of the Summerland stems not only from the canonical and poetic lines of Icelandic literary maverick Halldor Laxness' World Light, but from the sheer immensity of exponentially transcribing it into visual, produced and acted form. The central and driving idea behind the work was the recurrent quest for beauty, in multiple forms. "I think that beauty is not something that people discuss nowadays, and it is a misunderstanding. For every artist, it is always about beauty. Searching for an answer of beauty, or dealing with beauty in some way. I can not think of any single artist who is not dealing with beaut". Ragnar Kjartansson, in conversation with Chief Curator Daniela Zyman at post-production panel discussion, May 2014.

Like many major adaptations, the problematic aspects of intermedial dialogue between literature and film, theater and performance, are highlighted in Kjartansson's work. By conserving the products of the performance and filming, elements of that would conventionally be regarded as subsidiary reclaim their importance as evidence of Kjartansson's method and approach to performance and endurance-based practice. The Palace of the Summerland is dyadic, yet also a connected body of work which positions the artist as both performer and creator "a subject within his own creative vision, Kjartansson powerfully envelopes himself within the script, and subsequently, contests the standard relationship between art and artist. But The Palace of the Summerland reaches even further, and posits further questions of intent and staged practice. Prior to and throughout the performance, a consistent feed of material was produced" miniature models, scene-by-scene accounts, detailed drawings and handmade risographic booklets mirroring a bygone era of manual print production" all leading to the unresolved question of what was really produced...a performance, a film or some hybrid work of both?

The Palace of the Summerland as a post-performance exhibition provides viewers with a visual recipe of fantasy and creative induction. Collected and archived remnants, used and modified with personal flair, give viewers the chance to once again situate themselves in middle ground of performance art and the theater stage, begging the question as to where the line is actually drawn? For Ragnar Kjartansson and Friends, this was a constant and perplexing aspect which clearly shifted throughout the month-long achievement. Storyboards, scripts and even a "Silence Recording" sign embrace the veracity of the project, and its intent to convey authentic meaning, powerful emotion and a genuinely authentic setting to harbor it. The Palace of the Summerland, shifting from an in situ performative experiment to a lasting trace of a temporal month in Augarten, this addition to the collection solidifies Kjartansson's artistic elasticity and TBA21's commitment to supporting the growth of dynamic artworks and approaches.

*1976 in Reykjavík, Iceland | Living and working in Reykjavík, Iceland
Ragnar Kjartansson is a contemporary artist who engages multiple artistic mediums throughout his performative practice. His video installations, performances, drawings, and paintings incorporate the history of film, music, visual culture, and literature. His works are connected through their pathos and humor, with each deeply influenced by the comedy and tragedy of classical theater. Kjartansson's use of durational, repetitive performance to harness collective emotion is a hallmark of his practice and recurs throughout his work.

This biography is from Wikipedia under an Attribution-ShareAlike Creative Commons License
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