The Visitors

Kjartnasson’s multi-screen video installation is currently shown @ Prague National Gallery’s Trade Fair Palace until the 22 of May

‘The Visitors’ by Icelandic artist, Ragnar Kjartnasson, not only draws viewers in by its unique set up, but also by the way the song is sung. Kjartnasson’s multi-screen video installation is currently being shown at Prague National Gallery’s Trade Fair Palace until the 22 of May.

Nine large projection screens are in a dimly lit room. All of them running at the same time, each giving off a different picture, sending a different message, making different noises; it is almost impossible to keep up. You look around the room in a frenzy trying to keep up with the music, yet encapsulated with how each person in each screen is acting differently. Everything is moving together as one, but if you take your eyes off anything for just one second you’re afraid you’ll miss something spectacular.

Filmed in an upstate New York mansion, Kjartnasson, among eight other Icelandic artists, including musicians from Sigur Ros, shot the performance in a single take, keeping up the illusion that they were filming separately by avoiding each other in the house, and refusing to make eye contact.

‘The Visitors’ draws viewers in by testing our senses and pushing us past our limits of thinking and leaving us wanting more. The piece plays for 65 minutes, with the different instruments strumming along in unison, as if nothing else is happening in the world, but this synchrony of sounds.

Immediately there is a shift in the song. The musicians behind the instruments slow, and we get a sense the song is ending, yet its only getting a new beginning. They start to sing; the words repeat over and over, but never sound overbearing or uninteresting. The words start ringing in your ear as if you had thought of them yourself:  “there are stars/ exploding / around you / and there’s nothing / oh nothing / you can do.“

Kjartnasson himself is in the bathtub with a guitar, with his ex-wife, Asdis Sif Gunnarsdottir, in the piece as well, making the song just as powerful. Kjartnasson wrote the poem about Asdis a few months after their break up, and when the words are put to song in ‘The Visitors’ the lyrics become beautifully haunting and damming.

Kjartnasson’s installation at the Trade Fair Palace is part of the 220th anniversary of the National Gallery in Prague. Admission for this ground-floor section of the Gallery is free.

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