interview with icelandic artist ragnar kjartansson at engadin art talks

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the 11th edition of the renowned engadin art talks (E.A.T.) — the forum for art, architecture, design, film, science and literature — took place on january 30, 2021, as a virtual tour de force of speakers tuning in from home. throughout the 12-hour-long stream, artists, architects, designers, writers and scientists shared their ideas, thoughts and projects around this year’s theme: ‘longue durée’. in the video above, artist ragnar kjartansson is in conversation with E.A.T. curators bice curiger and philip ursprung under the title of ‘12 hours is not long: human and non-human time’. they explore the themes behind kjartansson’s durational and repetitive performance art as well as perception of time and the mother-son relationship.

12 hours is not long: an interview with icelandic artist ragnar kjartansson designboom

ragnar kjartansson, 
me and my mother 2020′, 2020

video still courtesy of ragnar kjartansson

 

 

perhaps one of ragnar kjartansson’s most well known art pieces is his durational video performance titled ‘me and my mother’. each year since 2020, the artist asks his mother, who is an accomplished actress in iceland, to spit on him for as long as she can. kjartansson explains, ‘it has become something that’s just typical, like a typical family tradition, because we’ve been doing it for 20 years now. it doesn’t feel like we’re doing an artwork anymore. in the beginning, it felt like wow, I’m doing this kickass art piece where my mother is spitting on me. I was a student and I was trying to do something exciting. and now it just really doesn’t feel like an artwork anymore.’

12 hours is not long: an interview with icelandic artist ragnar kjartansson designboom

ragnar kjartansson, ‘the sky in a room’, 2018

video still courtesy of ragnar kjartansson

 

 

the theme of 2021’s engadin art talks takes its name from a view of history that was first introduced by french historian, fernand braudel, called the ‘longue durée’. on this subject, kjartansson says, ‘it’s really kind of enchanting, this idea that there is this long term thing and then there’s these short bursts of history… with my long duration pieces, I’m also really emphasizing how short they are. like the heroic act of doing a performance for six hours, or 12 hours, it’s just like the heroic act of working in the grocery store for six hours. it’s just what we do. it’s actually a really short time, but it’s interesting how long it feels.’

12 hours is not long: an interview with icelandic artist ragnar kjartansson designboom

ragnar kjartansson, 
’bliss’, 2011

video still courtesy of ragnar kjartansson

 

 

and on his repetitive performance piece from 2011 called ‘bliss’, where the last scene from ‘the marriage of figaro’ was performed over and over for 12 hours, kjartansson says, ‘I always totally loved this part of the marriage of figaro, it’s just this ridiculously gorgeous music when everyone is forgiving and asking for forgiveness, but also weirdly, there’s all this violence in it… we were about 23 people on stage, and then the orchestra, and for 12 hours together. weirdly, performing it felt like sleeping. you’re sort of energized after it, you’re just bathed in this glorious music for 12 hours.’

12 hours is not long: an interview with icelandic artist ragnar kjartansson designboom

ragnar kjartansson, 
’song’, 2011

video still courtesy of ragnar kjartansson

 

 

12 hours is not long: an interview with icelandic artist ragnar kjartansson designboom

 

E.A.T. is internationally recognized for bringing together leading artists, architects, writers, scientists and disruptive thinkers from around the world. its mission is to provide an interdisciplinary platform for a global dialogue on the arts and different creative fields. internationally recognized for its line-up of leading artists, architects, writers, scientists, and disruptive minds from all over the world, E.A.T. has invited so far more than 140 speakers that have presented their ideas and visions on challenging social relevant themes since its inception in 2010. E.A.T. was founded by cristina bechtler together with hans ulrich obrist.



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