From Iceland — There Are Stars... Exploding

There Are Stars… Exploding

Published January 21, 2014

There Are Stars… Exploding
Photo by
Ragnar Kjartansson

Ragnar Kjartansson’s ‘The Visitors’ is perfect. This is art today and it feels amazing. 
The show, up at Kling and Bang Gallery until February 9th, is a must-see.

Walking into ‘The Visitors’ feels like walking into a house of your closest friends. The experience of this work is distinctly inclusive rather than voyeuristic, despite the intimate nature of each shot. This installation is made up of nine larger than life tableaux projections of different spaces at the Rockeby mansion, in Upstate New York. Each space, with its respective cast members and instrumentation, comes to heartbreakingly beautiful life as one immersive musical opus. The cast is made up of Ragnar’s close friends, Icelandic music notables including members of múm and Sigur Rós, as well as the family of Rokeby. Each screen in the darkened gallery is supplied with its own channel of sound emanating from the performer in frame. All of them sonically coalesce to create the space of the work. Moving through the space, the audience is afforded a pristine mix of each performer, and it is this relationship between the individual screens and the installation as a whole that guides us throughout the entirety of the work. It functions as if we were there wandering from room to room to witness this shared harmonious vision amongst Ragnar and friends.


The power of this work lies in its mastery. To pull off a work like this with such resounding clarity is a true testament to 21st century interdisciplinary practice. While it exhibits as a video installation, Ragnar is moving with grace between and within vast realms of art making and art history. Any single element of this work would function as a stand-alone work within its own respective media. By not simply utilising but rather incorporating, with pristine result, photography, film, sound, installation, sculpture, and performance art, ‘The Visitors’ grabs you by the heart and welcomes you along for the ride.

Perhaps, however, the most affecting attribute of this work is that it is fun, and Ragnar knows it. This work feels like an idea that had to be executed to celebrate the pure joy of the cacophonic mess of human experience. While that mess is shown here through Ragnar’s distinct artistic voice, he manages to transcend into a more universal and shared experience. It becomes our mess, deep, moving, poignant and shared. Go experience this piece, and then go see it again. You will be glad that you did.

2013: A Good Year for Ragnar Kjartansson

Ragnar Kjartansson is quickly becoming a global name in contemporary art. Born in Reykjavík in 1976, this artist has been picking up steam for the last several years and shows no signs of slowing down in 2014. The opening of his work The Visitors at Kling and Bang Gallery on November 30, brought a huge turnout and welcome homecoming for this master of play and human condition and rapidly ascending Icelandic artist.

While Iceland has seen a consistent and vibrant presence on the global art stage for the last 30 years, Ragnar is one of its most accomplished for his age. Trained in painting at the Iceland Academy of Art, Ragnar’s practice and career have moved into an ever-expanding field of performance, film, music, and installation with great result. His works have been received around the world to consistent acclaim. At 33 he became the youngest artist to represent Iceland at the 2009 Venice Biennale. He was invited again to the Venice Biennale in 2013 showcasing continuous musical performance for the duration of the show.

In December, Ragnar was shortlisted for the Artes Mundi award. At £40,000, it is the largest award in the UK and one of the largest recognitions in the world for contemporary art. Ragnar was chosen from a pool of 800 nominations spanning 70 countries. The finalists this year are from the Netherlands, Brazil, Croatia, Israel, Portugal, the US, and the UK. This shortlist is made up of some of the leading figures in contemporary art practice. Ragnar will be part of an exhibition with the other finalists at the Wales National Museum of Art, from October 25, 2014 to February 2015. The winner of the Artes Mundi will be announced January 22, 2015.

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