artist / participant

press release

Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson returns to Cardiff to present a new site-specific durational performance, The Sky in a Room. As part of the work, all of the paintings, objects and decorative furniture from the National Museum Cardiff’s Art in Britain 1700–1800 gallery have been removed. At the centre of the now empty space is the 18th century chamber organ originally commissioned by the Welsh patron of the arts Sir Watkins Williams Wynn in 1774.

Throughout the day, across the five-week duration of the performance, the new focus is a solo performer seated at the organ playing and singing Il Cielo In Una Stanza (The Sky in a Room), a famous Italian love song written by Gino Paoli in 1959. The song was originally inspired by Paoli, a young struggling songwriter who fell in love with a prostitute in a brothel with a lilac ceiling in Genoa. The lyrics recall the power of love to disappear walls into forests and ceilings into sky. Kjartansson’s work similarly transforms the Museum, dissolving space and time through the hypnotic repetition of the song.

In his essay to accompany the exhibition, Ragnar Helgi Ólafsson writes: “Ragnar Kjartansson seems perpetually drawn to this type of hopeless romanticism as well as to the continuous search for the unique ephemeral moment of the kind that Paoli's song tries to arrest. What marks Ragnar’s work out is the directness of his method, he does not aim for the depths but always sets his sights neatly on the surface of things, aiming straight for the climax. In this piece he sets about recreating a relic that is left over as a testament to a moment of beauty.”

Ragnar Kjartansson was born in Iceland in 1976. Live performance, repetition and music are central to his practice which also incorporates film, installation and painting. His film installation The Visitors  made its UK premier in Artes Mundi 6. Recent exhibitions include God I feel so bad, Reykjavik Art Museum, 2017; Ragnar Kjartansson, Barbican, 2016; Ragnar Kjartansson and The National: A Lot of Sorrow, Art Institute of Chicago, 2016; Me, My Mother, My Father and I, New Museum, New York, 2014; The Visitors, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, 2014.

The exhibition has been made possible by the Derek Williams Trust Artes Mundi Purchase Prize, which enables National Museum of Wales to purchase artworks by Artes Mundi shortlisted artists. During Artes Mundi 6 Ragnar Kjartansson was selected to receive the award by Jonathan Watkins, Director, IKON Gallery, Birmingham UK. The Sky in a Room is also generously supported by Art Fund and will be the first performance work to be acquired by National Museum of Wales.

Artes Mundi Artes Mundi brings exceptional and challenging international artists to Wales, generating unique opportunities to engage creatively with the urgent issues of our time. Artes Mundi 8 takes place at National Museum Cardiff, October 26, 2018–February 24, 2019.