Ragnar Kjartansson: Death Is Elsewhere

Ragnar Kjartansson: My name is Ragnar Kjartansson. I am an artist from Iceland.

We, as a culture, are not a culture of objects. So, like, there are hardly any old art works in Iceland. Icelanders are really storytellers. I’m always fascinated in the story behind stuff. But then, the funny part is, like, I cannot create stories! My work is all samples of other artworks, poetry, history.

I’m raised in the theater and I always loved rehearsals because it’s just, like, the same scene, over and over again. And I remember the disappointment of seeing a play, with its narrative structure. Then there’s, like, no space for the imagination.

This work, Death Is Elsewhere, was shot around summer solstice, around Eldhraun—the biggest lava field on Earth and one of the greatest natural disasters in history. Nature is so very vibrant at this time of year, when there is no darkness. I find this dramatic symbolism of love and death fascinating and also a bit ridiculous. We’re just, like, having a lovely time in nature, and death is really elsewhere.

The core of the piece is this circular song that has no beginning and no ending, all about spring and love. We put seven cameras in a circle like a high-tech Stonehenge. We really record the movement of the performers circulating the cameras.

We wrote it in my living room, from book titles that were there on the shelf. You find words here and a title there, and put it together, then it becomes its own poem.

The musicians in the piece are twins. I find the sculptural, symmetrical tension of twins very beautiful. It becomes a reflection of, like, individuality. It almost feels like portraiture, in a way.

It is very much a painterly, sculptural experience. I really look at it as a kinetic painting, not so much about what it is about. You know, there’s all these stories inside it but just the form of it is so important to me.

Then I find the idea of sentimentality and drama and beauty—and also then just, like, nihilism. It is, like, nothing. I’m happy with that tension: sentimentality meets nihilism.

© 2019 The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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