Ragnar Kjartansson | Center for Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv, Israel.
Architecture and morality.
May 26th – August 6th 2016.
For his solo exhibition at the CCA, Ragnar Kjartansson will create a new, ambitious body of paintings within the specific context of Israel. He will spend two weeks painting the urban landscapes in the West Bank “en plaine aire,” akin to his performative painting practice over the past few years. The paintings will be presented alongside two iconic video works by Kjartansson: A Lot of Sorrow (2013) and Song (2011).
A Lot of Sorrow is a six-hour video made in collaboration with the band The National. It was filmed during a performance of the same name that was originally part of MoMA PS1’s Sunday Sessions in May 2013. The National played their three-minute, twenty-five second song “Sorrow” live on stage, repeatedly and continuously, for six hours.
Song is also a six-hour video documenting a performance, made at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburg in 2011. It features three young women endlessly repeating slightly misremembered phrases from Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Song,” set to melancholic guitar strumming. The image recalls ancient Greek myths of sirens and speaks to the neoclassical architecture of the museum.
The videos and paintings both address endurance and timelessness — whether the ongoing, deadlocked conflict that is the Occupation or the Romantic look at the emotional sublime. The vastness that is beyond any art’s ability to fully express can be both political and poetic. Kjartansson’s interest in music and his use of repetitive performance to harness collective emotion is a hallmark of his practice, and comes through in both the videos and the paintings that comprise “Architecture and Morality,” whose title comes from the 1981 hit record by OMD (Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark).
The static, uneventful, yet visually rich videos can be considered durational images, even “films as paintings.” And the paintings, in turn, tell a story about the banality of everyday life amidst complex political turmoil. They are studies in and of themselves – exercises in oil on canvas of a situation beyond one’s grasp. The exhibition “Architecture & Morality” can be read from a number of angles, but ultimately it is a bold statement on art’s futility in the face of social and political strife.
Ragnar Kjartansson (b. 1976) has built his career upon bold and spirited experiments across media. Working simultaneously as an artist and a musician, Ragnar considers himself primarily a performance artist influenced by theater. His electronic group, Trabant, plays on the boundaries of rock and roll and performance art; Ragnar also creates videos, paintings and installations that are often linked with his performances. His pieces are characterized by the interplay between contradicting feelings—sorrow and happiness, horror and beauty, drama and humor—and frequently rely on repetition or “the loop.” Ragnar, who studied at the Iceland Academy of the Arts, is the youngest artist to represent Iceland in the Venice Biennale (2009).