20 Jul
Sat / 2019

Inside the MFAH
Visiting Musicians

In the work of Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson, the repetition of lines and lyrics of music is not relegated to rehearsals. Rather, it is what his performances make manifest.

As a young boy, Kjartansson (born 1976) watched his parents, well-known actors in Iceland, rehearse scenes over and over in the theater. Instead of becoming bored or distracted, Kjartansson was intrigued by the way the same words would constantly yield new meanings. This revelation would inspire a body of work brimming with reprises, as seen in the exhibition Ragnar Kjartansson: The Visitors.

Life-Size Projections
Recently acquired by the Museum, The Visitors is conceived as an installation. The hour-long work comprises nine life-size projections, each featuring a different musician who inhabits a separate room or the grounds of the 200-year-old Rokeby mansion in Hudson River Valley, New York. Each romantically distressed room is lovingly lit and opulently furnished in a style evocative of a John Singer Sargent painting, including the bathroom where Kjartansson appears, playing his guitar in a claw-foot tub.

Simultaneously and Separately
Connected by mics and earphones, the group plays simultaneously and separately, singing the lyrics of a poem written by artist Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir. They eventually home in on the line “Once again I fall into my feminine ways,” repeating the words as the tone of the music evolves from a melancholic dirge to a raucous gospel song.

Moving from Screen to Screen
Unlike other Kjartansson works, in which performers move on and off stage at will, The Visitors invites the audience members to come and go, meandering about the installation to pause at the various screens. In this way, viewers are made to feel as though they are within, and not just watching, the performance. Moving from screen to screen, they have the impression of walking through the Rokeby mansion, spending time with each player, taking in every note and gesture.

A Merry Band
Finally, the musicians convene in the main room and on one screen. Still singing, they pop open a bottle of champagne and parade out of the house and down a hill, like a merry band of troubadours entering a Hudson River School tableau.

Togetherness and Solitude
The title of this work comes from ABBA’s final album, recorded while the pop group was splitting up. Accordingly, The Visitors is a meditation on both togetherness and solitude. The musicians come together for a performance that they enact separately, reflecting the ways in which we simultaneously experience the world individually and collectively.

► See more in “Ragnar Kjartansson: The Visitors,” on view in the Beck Building through September 22.

Filed under:


Recent Posts

Post Archives

Tag Cloud

18th-century 1970s 19th-century 35mm 5womenartists abstract activity african-art a-history-of-photography akan american american-art ancient and angelica-kauffmann animals animation anna-atkins antiquities architecture archive art art-books artist artists art-of-the-islamic-worlds arts-of-india azaleas bayou bayou-bend bayou-bend-christmas-village bend bestowing-beauty biblical biography book british british-arrows british-art broadways-amazing-mastersons buffalo-bayou-park-cistern campus campus-redevelopment cannes carroll-sterling-masterson chair chef chinese-art christmas christmas-fun cinema cisternrain classic classic-films coffee collection color colors-of-the-oasis community concrete conservation contemporary-art contemporary-arts-museum-houston contemporary-film contesting-modernity countess cullen-sculpture-garden culture curator curators-picks dance decorative-arts degas degas-a-new-vision design digital documentary documents dont-blink-robert-frank drama drawings dutch-art electronic elizabeth-i england e-records exhibition exhibitions eye-on-houston family family-programs fashion fashion-fusion feast festival fiber-arts field film films flowers food francis-bacon free french french-art fun future futuremfah gainsborough gallery gallery-interpretation garden garden-paradise gardens george-iii glassell glassell-school-of-art google-art-project google-arts-and-culture habsburg-splendor-masterpieces-from-viennas-imperial-collections halloween happyhour happy-new-year harris-masterson-iii henry-viii hirsch-library history history-book-club holiday holiday-fun hollywood home homemfah homeso-different-so-appealing houston howe hurricane-harvey icaa ikat ima-hogg impressionism indian-art instagram interactive ipads islamic italian japanese-art john-biggers joshua-reynolds kenwood kids king kodak kusama latin latin-america latin-american latin-american-art latino-art latin-wave latinx laura-israel learning-and-interpretation love mail manet maria-fernanda-cardoso mastersons mayan-art media meditation mending-craft-and-community mexican-film mexican-modernism mexico mfa-cafe mfah mfah-book-club mfah-films mfah-in-the-community mfah-staff modern modernism movie movies movies-houstonians-love mueck mueckmfah museum museum-education music native-american-art new nhprc now-on-view now-playing organic oscar-de-la-renta oscars painting paintings paint-the-revolution paris paul-thomas-anderson peacock-in-the-desert-the-royal-arts-of-jodhpur-india peacockmfah persian persian-art photographs photography picasso portrait portraits pose prints prints-and-drawings programs queen-victoria radical rebel-jester-mystic-poet recipe rembrandt-van-rijn rienzi ron-mueck rothko sampler school sculpted-in-steel sculpture self-portrait shadow-monsters shepherds short-films slow-art-day snail snapshot spain spanish-art spring style summer technology texas textiles thanksgiving the the-al-sabah-collection theater the-glamour-and-romance-of-oscar-de-la-renta trivia tudors-to-windsors valentines-day venezuelan-art video vincent-van-gogh vincent-van-gogh-his-life-in-art virtual wagner-garden-carpet watercolor winter women-filmmakers womens-history-month works-on-paper yoga zoom