Ragnar Kjartansson & The Fall: A Lot of Sorrow

Ragnar Kjartansson  “A Lot of Sorrow”  © Elisabet Davidsdottir. 

Screened continuously as a cinematic video clip in at the König Galerie in Kreuzberg, Ragnar Kjartansson’s video installation A Lot of Sorrow is an exploration of pop culture, mass media consumption, ritual, repetition and the viewer/artist relationship. The video is of a performance by the American alternative band The National, who play their song Sorrow in one continuous 6 hour performance, filmed with 5 separate cameras and replicated in full within the cavernous confines of the gallery space.

The König gallery at St. Agnes gallery is a converted church, its high walls and vast open interior serving as the perfect space for Kjartansson’s exploration of ritual and repetition. The religious significance of the space was obviously a conscious pairing of work and space. The screening room dwarfs the viewer while elevating the installation to something more than a reproduction of a performance.

A Lot of Sorrow is a slow burning, raw piece, drawing the viewer slowly into its pulsing, hypnotic rhythms. The band begins with the usual vigour of a live performance; one hour passes and the tone is already more subdued. Another hour, boredom and frustration have set in. Five hours in, the fatigue of performing is transcended as the band go beyond normal physical and mental constraints of performance. Kjartansson’s work often deals with time and its effect on viewer and artist.  A Lot of Sorrow has a masochistic undertone. This is in contrast to The Visitors for example, another piece of Kjartansson’s that was showed last year in the Guggenheim Bilbao, a lush and inviting hour long performance. A Lot of Sorrow is a far more difficult yet rewarding piece to watch from start to finish (if you can endure it, that is).

Ragnar Kjartansson & The National   © Ragnar Kjartansson & The National. 

The piece ebbs and flows between listless boredom and uplifting moments, all the time questioning the ability of the performers to continue playing and the audience to continue watching. Every time the song finishes and the band prepare to play once again, the crowd cheers in support. Each new start is like a little victory for both performers and crowd as the piece edges towards its conclusion. It is like engraved notches on a prison wall; counting down to their release from the confines of the bars of the song. The endless repetition permeates the mind and body, a wave of sound which builds up layers like paint on a canvas, until all the layers become thick and textured, each slightly different yet adding to the last. Any concerted effort to actually follow the music quickly diminishes as the behemoth slouches on through its six hour journey.

While A Lot of Sorrow may not be quite as long as some of the other pieces at the Foreign Affairs festival, its reverberant tones and mantra like quality will not easily leave your mind, flowing around the back of your head for many days afterwards. Absolutely worth seeing; even dropping in for 20 minutes to experience the performance provides an insight to the themes Kjartansson is exploring. Multiple visits will paint a fuller picture of the work, or if you are up to it is possible to six through the whole 6 hour piece. Just bring along something to eat (Like the chicken wings that Kjartansson brings onstage for  The National mid-performance).

‘A Lot of Sorrow’ runs until SUN 23 Aug 2015 at KÖNIG GALERIE in ST. AGNES (visiting hours: TUE–SUN 12:00–18:00, total run time: 06:09:35 hours. Admission free.

By Paul Tobin

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