Musée d’art Contemporain, Montréal
Picture a darkened space. Seven large screens line the walls, while two more hang in the middle of the room. One by one, these screens light up to reveal rooms in a mansion, each of which contains an individual with a musical instrument, a set of headphones and a microphone. A woman in a nightgown sits on the landing with her cello; a man in a dark vest is poised at a drum kit in the hallway; another perches on the bench of a grand piano in the parlour. At first, a bearded man lying naked in a bathtub begins to strum his guitar, and, one by one, the other musicians join in. Together they form The Visitors, the centrepiece to the exhibition by Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson at the Musée d’art Contemporain.
Led by Kjartansson in the bathtub, these on-screen ‘visitors’ create a symphony that lasts nearly an hour, passing from delicate moments to powerful crescendos. Gallery-goers wander round the installation, discovering how the many rooms fit together while exploring lyrical interpretations of the song ‘Feminine Ways’, based on a poem by Kjartansson’s ex-partner. The lamenting music transports viewers to this elegant house far away, creating a connection between two types of visitors – those on film and those in the gallery. As the performance draws to a close, the musicians unite in the garden and stroll off into nearby fields, still singing the same repeating verse. The cameras are turned off one at a time and the gallery is quiet once more.
In addition to The Visitors, the exhibition at the MAC features A Lot of Sorrow, a video chronicling the six-hour performance of a single song, Sorrow, by US group The National. Also included is the début of Kjartansson’s new work, World Light, documenting the production in a Vienna gallery of a film based on a renowned Icelandic novel. In each of these pieces, the artist skillfully builds intimate yet expansive worlds, transporting and enchanting visitors. Entrance to Ragnar Kjartansson’s exhibition is a round-trip ticket to three unique universes, a voyage I would highly recommend.
Until May 22