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FIGURES IN LANDSCAPE
31 January – 16 March 2019
Opening reception: 31 January 2019 5pm – 7pm
Figures in white lab coats roam a man-made landscape, pause, and kill time. They come to us as representatives of logic, science, and human progress. We have seen such images before, heroically depicted on the facades of Soviet bas-reliefs, for example, or in Diego Rivera’s Ford Motor Company murals. Only now we are in the 21st century, and man is no longer the rational master of his surroundings, but rather a scourge, seemingly intent on the earth’s destruction.
In Figures in Landscape, #ragnarkjartansson celebrates the humanist spirit as a child of his time, with a hint of irony and taking full advantage of the technological advances that make this enormous video work possible. Comprised of seven distinct scenes, each 24-hours long, the complete piece takes an entire week to view. Each scene unfolds in a different archetypal landscape, like desktop screen savers but hand-painted as film sets. Man is confronted with nature but does little more than wander around or rest, waiting for a heroic deed that will never come. Viewers can use the work to mark time or to situate themselves at different points in the day, but the fate of the work over time will also be a reflection of its own time, as nothing is truly timeless.
Kjartansson once heard a story of Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks meeting on a film set where Fairbanks was shooting. Fairbanks shows Chaplin an enormous castle that has been built, complete with a drawbridge, and asks what kind of scene he would shoot there if he was the director. Chaplin replies that he would lower the drawbridge, the Tramp would appear, bring in the milk bottle, and let out the cat. For Kjartansson, the story resonates. In a single gesture, Chaplin has taken down a symbol of the sublime, one associated with heroic deeds and victory.
Influenced early on by artists such as Marina Abramovic and Chris Burden, Kjartansson has been testing his own stamina and endurance, and what can be achieved with repetition over time. In Figures in Landscape, the artist is no longer alone but has co-workers in the repetition. In fact, we could all define ourselves as co-workers of sorts, repeating the same actions in our everyday lives, delivering hour after hour of sheer presence in the workplace. The museum guard protecting Kjartansson’s work is no less tested than the artist, standing day after day, with little movement, ensuring the safety of the guests and artwork.
As indicated by his handmade sets, Kjartansson adopts the artistic stance that nature is a Romantic symbol of the sublime, a stage for storytelling. He does not look to nature for facts about volcanic eruptions and land formations, but rather searches for stories of valiant acts by chieftains or the tragic destiny of a poor farmer. It is in these landscapes that his figures of rationality and human progress roam and wait, as if to reassure us of their continued conviction that science is still the source of every great deed.
About the work
Figures in Landscape consists of seven distinct 24-hour scenes, each a silent, single-channel video work, filmed on a set hand-painted as an archetypal landscape: a forest, a desert, barren mountains, a beach, a jungle, snow-covered mountains, and a meadow. The seven scenes will be played simultaneously and repeat continuously throughout the duration of the show.
As Kjartansson describes the work: “There is no narrative, nothing happens, simply the movement of people in white lab coats walking around in the landscape. Figures in Landscape is a nod to heroic murals of science and prosperity, with a modern, nihilistic twist.” When repeated continuously, however, each scene in Figures in Landscape functions as a timepiece of sorts - the figures’ familiar movements marking the fixed moments of an individual day, or if the scenes are played in sequence, an entire week.
Ragnar Kjartansson draws on the entire arc of art in his performative practice. The history of film, music, theatre, visual culture and literature find their way into his video installations, durational performances, drawing and painting. Pretending and staging become key tools in the artist’s attempt to convey sincere emotion and offer a genuine experience to the audience.
Kjartansson’s work has been exhibited widely. Recent solo exhibitions and performances have been held at the Barbican Art Gallery in London, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington DC, #reykjavik Art Museum, Palais de Tokyo in Paris, and New Museum in New York. In 2011, he was the recipient of Performa’s 2011 Malcolm McLaren Award for his performance ‘Bliss’. In 2009, Kjartansson represented Iceland at the Venice Biennale, and in 2013 his work was featured at the Biennale’s main exhibition, The Encyclopedic Palace. Kjartansson was born in 1976 in Reykjavík and studied at the Iceland Academy of the Arts and The Royal Academy, Stockholm.
A survey show of Kjartansson’s work will open in Kunstmuseum Stuttgart in July 2019.
Figures in Landscape is Ragnar Kjartansson’s fourth solo show with #i8gallery.
For interview requests, image enquires, or video viewing links, please contact Thorlákur Einarsson at firstname.lastname@example.org
i8 Gallery Tryggvagata 16 101 Reykjavík Iceland email@example.com
t: +354 551 3666
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