It may already have toured Europe and America, but Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson’s epic nine-screen video installation ‘The Visitors’ (2012) hasn’t lost any of its sentiment, charisma or potency for its UK premiere. Actually it’s the best presentation I’ve seen at Vinyl Factory’s space which, ingeniously, uses the top floor of Brewer Street car park for installation artworks.
Known for performance-based, work for which he often collaborates with family and friends, Kjartansson has created a mesmerising experience. It’s set at the two-hundred-year-old Rokeby Villa in upstate New York (once home to the American socialite Astor family), where eight musicians perform a heart-wrenching song with spellbinding passion. Shot in one take, each performer, including members of bands Sigur Ros and Múm, inhabits a different room in the run-down house: one screen features Kjartansson strumming his guitar and belting out lyrics while naked in a bath. The ninth scenario focuses on the veranda where the villa’s residents occasionally join in aided by the hum of Hudson River crickets and unexpected cannon fire. The piece culminates with everyone making their way out on to the grand lawn and into the misty sun-setting distance, the sound of their chanting beautifully dissolving as they become specks on the screen.
Using his ex-wife Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir’s short, profoundly nihilistic poem about love and loss, ‘Feminine Ways’, as the inspiration for the verse , Kjartansson composed the score with fellow Icelandic performing artist Davíð Þór Jónsson – who swigs whisky and smokes a cigar while playing a grand piano in an opulently decorated room.
Fluctuating between the slow and melancholic to the rapturous and celebratory, ‘The Visitors’ distils the affecting and empowering essence of music. Each lone performer’s individual endeavour creates a unified and euphoric collective experience. While there are moments of sorrow, it’s extraordinarily uplifting. It lasts a little over an hour but you’ll want to spend all day with it.