Ragnar Kjartansson
The Visitors
March 7 – June 16, 2013
TBA21–Augarten, Scherzergasse 1A, 1020 Vienna, Austria

Ragnar Kjartansson – The Visitors, 2012
Film stills: Courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York and Galleri I8, Reykjavik

TBA21—Augarten’s third exhibition is a prelude to an ongoing collaboration with the Icelandic artist and performer Ragnar Kjartansson. The Visitors presents his celebrated nine-channel video installation, which premiered in 2012, together with the video The Man (2010), a portrait of the American blues legend Pinetop Perkins. Both works are part of TBA21’s collection of contemporary art. The exhibition will be followed by a newly commissioned performative production in 2014, centering on the novel World Light by Halldór Laxness (1937-1940).

Ragnar Kjartansson’s elegiac video composition The Visitors (2012) 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, marked by divorce and defeat. Themed to lyrics from a poem written by Kjartansson's ex-partner Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir, titled Feminine Ways, the cinematographic tableau shows the nine protagonists each perform the song in separate settings in a long, uninterrupted, and looped 64-minute take: 

A pink rose
In the glittery frost
A diamond heart
And the orange red fire
Once again I fall into My feminine ways
You protect the world from me As if I’m the only one who’s cruel You’ve taken me
To the bitter end
Once again I fall into My feminine ways
There are stars exploding
And there is nothing you can do

Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir

Situated on the Hudson River, Rokeby Farm is part of an estates district going back to colonial times, which attracted landed gentry, business magnates, and historical figures, who built lavish mansions. Among those who established their country seats in this area were Frederick Vanderbilt, John Jacob Astor, Robert R. Livingston, James Roosevelt Sr., Franklin H. Delano, and many others.

The Visitors captures the long-drawn-out moment when a group of seemingly exotic invitees has taken over the noble mansion for a musical performance. Attracted by both the house’s atmosphere of romantic decadence and disrepair and its eccentric inhabitants (descendants of the Livingston and Aldrich families), Kjartansson and his musical cast decided to perform their hypnotic and nihilistically iterative chant in this otherworldly setting. The nine visitors take up various spaces indoors and out, each one inhabiting a separate yet very distinct setting, playing various instruments and singing as if to themselves the piece’s main tune. It is only in the synchronization of the nine channels that the voices and instruments merge into a harmonic orchestration.
March 7–June 16, 2013
TBA21–Augarten, Scherzergasse 1A, 1020 Vienna, Austria
Curated by
Daniela Zyman
Supported by
Wiener Städtische Versicherungsverein