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The Hangar Bicocca in Milan, Vicente Todolí and the satanic feminist gospel of Ragnar Kjartansson


14 December 2013

The Hangar Bicocca in Milan, Vicente Todolí and the satanic feminist gospel of Ragnar Kjartansson

15.000 square metres of exhibition space constitute the old industrial space, the Hangar Biccoca in Milan, one of the largest in Europe. Over the winter two important exhibitions, in addition to the permanent installation by Anselm Kiefer, The Seven Heavenly Palaces, transport the spectator to a vision of the sublime; be it for the monumentality of the seven site-specific towers or its sensationalism in reflecting on the interpretation, representation and projection of time, space and symbolism.

Vicente Todolí is the new Art Advisor for Hangar Bicocca, and he inaugurates its programme with a conscious choice of the two temporary artists: Ragnar Kjartansson and Dieter Roth. Both are united by; personal ties, poetic inspirations, multidisciplinary attitudes, and an ambition for the total work of art. During 2014, Micol Assaël, Cildo Meireles, Pedro Paiva-Joâo Maria Gusmâo, Joan Jonas ad Juan Muñoz, will be the ones exhibiting in the Milanese Hangar.

Islands by Dieter Roth opened recently and in the “Shed” space dedicated to younger artists, we find The Visitors, by the Icelandic artist, musician and performer, Ragnar Kjartansson. As spectators we are the honoured “visitors”, welcomed by a visual, musical and emotive installation, laid out in nine video screens on a scale of 1:1. Ragnar himself, along with his friends and musicians from the indie scene in Iceland, -some components of Mùm and Sigur Rós-, play, for over an hour, each on a distinct instrument, the melody of the poem Feminine Ways, written by the artist’s ex-wife during their divorce. The title The Visitors is inspired by Abba’s last album of the same name, a band that epitomised, according to Kjartansson, this melancholy of simply cool pop, in which they already exorcised isolation and sentimental breakdowns.

The soloists execute a polyphonic concert in a bohemian mansion in Rokeby (New York), and under this premise I deduce that every space I visit will be a totally decadent, theatrical scenario. Each performer will perform for me from a designated room: the bedroom, the library, the kitchen and even from the bath, -where Kjartansson plays the guitar-. And only I, in my condition as a visitor, will be able to listen to all nine voices at the same time; this is my privilege. The presence of the musicians, portrayed in their intimacy and solitude, turns into absence when the function is over, they retire and the spaces are finally shown to us empty, in the face of our nostalgic gaze. Here the aesthetic distance becomes an ethical sharing out. What is called upon here is the dualism destined to discern between the inevitable individual solitude and a possibly choral collective. And it proposes a sort of double game, as much in relation to the context and the emotions, as in the traditional connection between the live performance and its permanence in typical video reproductions.

The performance, recorded in one single session, without any repeats or interruptions, is controlled to the finest detail, while still managing to maintain the freshness of improvisation. The result is a cinematographic tableau vivant made up of poetry and music, a hymn to the “feminine side”, to a reflection on feelings. The identification of art-life and the figure of the creative genius abound amidst the Icelandic romanticism that The Visitors, exudes, with its contrasting mixture of melancholy and irony, which through repetition and duration establishes a whispered dialogue between the music and the space.

Kjartansson is this inclusion of the whole spectrum of the arts upon which the performative exercise is based; with his own style of recitation, he combines reality and fiction, Icelandic traditions and mythologies of contemporary culture, with a hypnotic, aesthetic effect, almost an ode to boredom, that hangs by the thread of mysticism and parody. From his beginnings in the electronic-rock band Trabant, musical performance in his work makes a collective pathos possible, Dionysian and paradoxical. Music is the metaphor for focussing on oneself and at the same of concentrating on others. Almost a perfect society, one could say.

For Laura Cornejo research, criticism and curating constitute the present. She’s interested above all in the connections between words, sound and image that are made possible with art. She believes that their happy combination brings intense discursive reflections with which to construct and reconstruct contemporary debates. Venetian by adoption, she works in cultural projects and with local artists so that there, the contemporary stops being just a figment of the imagination.

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