Review of Ragnar Kjartansson’s “The Visitors”

new doc 2017-08-15 20.48.59_1If you’re near the Bay Area and are a human being who enjoys art, please run, don’t walk to the SF MOMA and check out Ragnar Kjartansson’s “The Visitors,” which will be on display until the end of December. 

This past weekend, my sister and I had the fortune of stumbling upon this exhibit. After winding our way through Warhol and Calder, we ended up on the top floor, which had a collection of different audio-visual pieces. Without even reading the rectangular placard on the wall, my sister veered into an installation and I followed her in. The room was dark except for two screens that were lit up near the entrance. There were several large, darkened screens and projectors in various parts of the room. The screen closest to us showed a young bass player with his girlfriend behind him sleeping with her back to the camera. Another screen showed a woman in a long blush dress, bare feet, and an accordion resting on her lap. One by one, the screens started to light up around the room. Each displaying a different room with a solitary musician.

I won’t describe the entire exhibit, because I hope you’ll get a chance to see it for yourself, but here’s a little background information. The piece was filmed in one-take at sunset in a 200 year old mansion in upstate New York. It’s a beautiful commentary on romance, heartbreak, collaboration, and repetition as all of the musicians, even though they appear by themselves are playing and singing the same song together, which was arranged by the artist based on a single line of his ex-wife’s poetry. You might think that listening to the same lyric repeated again and again for 64 minutes would be akin to torture, however, somehow it creates such a hauntingly beautiful soundscape that you feel special just to be a part of it.

There’s something so vulnerable and beautiful about this piece. Maybe it’s the way you can hear cicadas chirping and a glass tipped over in the background. Maybe it’s the moment when Ragnar himself takes off his towel (the only thing he was wearing) to wipe up spilled champagne on the floor at the end of the video. Maybe it’s the way each musician looks like they’re playing just for themselves as they create a beautiful, living piece. There’s something special about this installation that will haunt you (in a good way) for days after. 

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