November/December 2010

Ragnar Kjartansson


This issue features a microinterview with Ragnar Kjartansson, a performance and video artist from Iceland. Kjartansson’s work often involves heroic acts of repetition and the removal of clothing, occasionally in odd locations. He once filmed a piece in which his own mother cleared her throat and spat viciously in his face. A six-month performance for the Venice Biennale, The End, involved the artist showing up each day to drink, smoke, and paint 144 portraits of his peer Páll Haukur Björnsson. For his art, Kjartansson has paid gypsies to lie on a grave in a public cemetery, dressed as the grim reaper and addressed a gaggle of schoolchildren, and gotten drunk at a blue-chip gallery party while singing “Ode to Joy.” Kjartansson is also the former flamboyant front man for an actual, successful rock band, Trabant. The Believer conducted this microinterview with Kjartansson at the Modern, a bar on MoMA’s first floor.

Microinterview with Ragnar Kjartansson, Part I.

THE BELIEVER: In those performances, when you’re singing the same phrase over and over again: If I was standing in an audience watching the performance for an hour, for two hours, my attention would drift. I’d let my mind wander, but I’d come back to it.

RAGNAR KJARTANSSON: Your mind starts traveling and goes back. And I’m so interested in that because I used to be really religious when I was a teenager. Once, the priest said: “God speaks to when you are asleep, so never feel ashamed of falling asleep in church.” So I thought toward art, a concert, in a theater. It’s not bad if you go to sleep. One of my favorite movies, La Dolce Vita—I’ve seen it five times but I’ve never been able to finish it. When the psychedelic, crazy part starts—I don’t know, I think it’s psychedelic because I always fall asleep at that part. La Dolce Vita is the ultimate art piece: you follow it, you fall asleep, and then you wake up at the end. It’s so great.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please visit our store to purchase a copy of the magazine.

Scott Indrisek is the senior editor of Modern Painters. He lives in Brooklyn with his girlfriend and two cats. He will sell you artwork made of tape if you ask nicely.

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