Frankfurter Kunstverein Presents Ragnar Kjartansson: Endless Longing, Eternal Return

On the occasion of Iceland’s invitation as guest country at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2011, the Frankfurter Kunstverein presents the first major solo exhibition in Germany of Ragnar Kjartansson (born 1976). The exhibition comprises more than fifteen video works, image series and installations of the past ten years by the well known Icelandic artist whose six-month-long continuous performance at the Icelandic Pavilion caused quite a sensation at the Venice Biennale of 2009. Especially for the exhibition at the Frankfurter Kunstverein, Kjartansson produces a new sculptural work. Open August 19–October 16, 2011.

Ragnar Kjartansson

Iceland is home to a small but very lively and diverse art scene, which is shaped by both international influences and the unique geographical and historical circumstances of the island state. Contemporary art from Iceland is characterized by intermedial and interdisciplinary approaches: many artists work at once with moving video images and still photography, with sound and electronic ambient music, with performances and situational actions, which develop into installations or arrangements of objects.

Thus Ragnar Kjartansson, with his family background in theater, also follows a multidisciplinary approach, incorporating elements of visual art, music and above all theater in his works. From this emerge happenings, installations, drawings, photographs, and videos.

Kjartansson, who understands the process of artistic creation itself as a performance, acts in many of his works as a protagonist, entering different roles: The artist has appeared as a knight, rock star, revolutionary, and even as the incarnation of death—and of course, as for the Venice Biennale in 2009, as an artistic genius obsessed with the search for the ultimate image.

The use of repetitions and time loops and the related themes of duration and endurance are at the core of Ragnar Kjartansson’s work. The artist pushes himself and his audience to physical and psychological limits. As backdrops, he sets up spaces or projection areas in which the great appearance, the historical or fateful moment, could take place. For instance the video work entitled “God” (2007) shows Kjartansson on a stage covered in pink satin in the midst of a classical orchestra setting, singing the refrain “sorrow conquers happiness” again and again over the course of forty minutes. He is not, however, repeating himself exactly with each refrain. Rather, the repetitions—similar to wearisome rehearsals of the same theatrical scene—are sequences sung endlessly, one after the other, of similar tonality, but which come out differently each time. This mantra-like exercise reflects the performer’s inner search and endless longing for the true form of expression, which ultimately spreads to the audience, suspending them in an ambivalent state of happiness and mourning, beauty and horror, humor and drama.

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