Uma Vangal is a Fulbright scholar in the Department of Dance, Drama and Film. Here, she reviews artist Ragnar Kjartansson’s exhibit at the Gund Gallery, which is running through Oct. 27.
Kjartansson’s exhibition is comprised of “The Visitors” and “The Man,” two filmed pieces that feature music. “The Man” is a single projection work, while “The Visitors” is a 64-minute musical work projected on nine different screens, filmed in nine different rooms of a Hudson Valley home.
Walking into the main space of the Kjartansson exhibit, the first thing that struck me is the warm yellow tone that permeates every frame of the nine large screens that line the walls, making each one appear like a classic Renaissance painting. Next, I noticed the recurring motif of frames and doorways, and knowing I was in for a technical and visual journey that I would cherish.
I was captivated by the idea of having the musicians portrayed individually on each screen, filmed in their comfort zones. The musicians, framed in complete concentration and focused on their music, were in the middle of some intense personal engagement.
The second musical interlude makes us reminisce about the differences that tear us asunder when we all probably want the same things from life ﾗ simple joys and simple sharing of happiness.
The plaintive guitar, cello and accordion blending with the rousing piano somehow brought home a collective yearning.
The powerless people of the world haunt us along with the haunting voices, and cause us to ask: “Is there nothing we can do?” One feels this question echo all around the Gallery, and within us, as we listen to their song.
With the subtle change of pace with the music, however, we are imbued with hope that all is not lost, and this is when the work becomes transcendental and meaningful for those of us in the audience who want to go beyond the frames.
Technically, one notices the aesthetic and design achievements. The artists are framed in the mid-ground. The highlights in the foreground and background are done with lamps, and the separately lit spaces give it a depth and sense of space. The frames are static, but moving characters are calculated to draw us into their world with living music.
I was, of course, fascinated at the sheer coordination that must have gone into this production. The challenge of recording and synchronizing the sounds and the musicians’ performances but, most of all, the mounting and sound design at the exhibition venue appears to have been meticulously planned.
The visual and musical transitions were also interesting. Every time the two men in the outdoor frame attempt to set off a cannon, the others do something that motivates us to look all around us for the changes. The blend is seamless between musical transitions as the artists switch from singing to tuning, taking a short break, or simply sitting and contemplating. We are constantly waiting for something to happen, and the anticipation builds up over the performance, which is just over an hour.
In the background of one of the frames, a woman who sleeps through it all showcases calm and tranquility, and we know there is a treat waiting for us at the end of this musical journey. The slow, rhythmic pace in all their actions, whether doing mundane things like playing with the bathwater or removing shoes or dressing up as they get ready to walk away from the camera, surprises the audience. As the song continues, the artists brilliantly exit out of and into the new frames.
Secluded in a curtained-off room in the Gund Gallery, “The Man” ﾗ a shot of a lone pianist in an outdoor lonely landscape ﾗ is a single-screen projection of legendary blues pianist Pinetop Perkins, who was the oldest surviving blues performer from the Mississippi Delta region until he passed away in 2011. Portraiture at its best, the work captures Perkins sitting outdoors, playing his piano. In the background is a lone house and a pine tree, accentuating the lonely yet intricate and absorbing musical journey of the artist.
Evocative, beautiful, soul-stirring and soul-calming, this work succeeds if we have the patience to unravel the mystery it promises.