Ragnar Kjartansson – Sorrow

The Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson uses music as a key focus of many of his performance and video works. In the work entitled A Lot of Sorrow (2014) for example, he staged a performance at MOMA PS1 in which he invited the American band The National to play their well-known song Sorrow repeatedly for six hours. The video what shot and edited into a six-hour-long single-channel, stereo video work. In his book Gallery Art, Caleb Kelly describes how this use of repetition aligns Kjartsson’s work with the composer Erik Satie whose composition Vexations (1893) includes the instruction for the short refrain to be repeated 840 times (which takes about 18 hours). A Lot of Sorrow is a mere 6-hours in comparison, but like Vexations, it shifts the focus from the small (a melody, a lyric, etc) to the large The experience of a longer duration. As Kelly writes:

While The National play their song near perfectly every time, visitors experience very different parts of the performance depending on when they enter the space. Here the short three-and-a-half-minute music track is extended into a durational and highly repetitious artwork. Kjartansson has taken a highly recognizable song by a well-known indie rock band and through duration and repetition in a concert environment has turned the song into a durational piece of video art.

Similarly, for the European performance festival Manifesta, he created the work  Sorrow Conquers Happiness. In which he sings these title’s words In a railway station in St. Petersburg, backed by a full orchestra, again for six hours.

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