What a beautiful place to seek shelter, gather strength, and enjoy the company of friends.
A two-hundred-year-old landmark in upstate New York—a romantic setting of bohemian décor and seductive atmospheres—plays host to The Visitors, a title inspired by ABBA’s final album before their breakup. Ragnar Kjartansson’s band is an eclectic group. Eight musicians begin to play, each in a separate room (with the artist himself naked in the bathtub), recording their separate tracks in sync in a single continuous session as others play and sing on the porch. Mansion turns living museum; film set becomes multitrack recording studio.
Music can arouse desires and emotions but it can also offer a retreat and safe haven in moments of despair. Once again I fall into / My feminine ways—the song’s lyrics, from a poem by Kjartansson’s ex-wife, Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir, revel in melancholy. With each refrain, emotions go deeper, building dense layers of past feeling, and a collective lament. On the nine projection screens in this immersive video installation, threads of intimate views are woven into the lingering melody.
Incessantly repeating the same song signals a moment of emotional catharsis. The hour-long psychedelic loop slowly drifts toward a last movement, a gathering of friends and a communal walk out into the mansion’s open pastures, leaving this viewer with a sense of longing unfulfilled.
— Rudolf Frieling
Originally published in San Francisco Museum of Modern Art 360⁰: Views on the Collection, edited by Judy Bloch and Suzanne Stein (San Francisco: SFMOMA, 2016).
Ragnar Kjartansson, The Visitors, 2012; installed at SFMOMA as part of Soundtracks, 2017; © Ragnar Kjartansson; video: courtesy Adobe.
This 360⁰ audio/video presentation is best experienced using a mobile device and headphones.