Artist Ragnar Kjartansson returns to Wales with new performance

Date posted: November 6, 2017

The Sky in a Room by Ragnar Kjartansson

3rd February – 11th March / National Museum Cardiff
With support from the Derek Williams’ Trust and ArtFund


Gallery 4, National Museum Cardiff, featuring the Williams-Wynn organ, 1774

(Gallery 4, National Museum Cardiff, featuring the Williams-Wynn organ, 1774)

When you are here with me
This room no longer has any walls, but trees
Infinite trees.
When you are here, near to me
This violet ceiling
No, no longer exists
A harmonica sounds It seems to me like an organ
That vibrates for you and for me
Up in the immensity of the sky
For you and for me
In the sky
(From Il cielo in una stanza,written by Gino Paoli)

Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson will return to Wales to present a brand-new performance piece, The Sky in a Room, co-commissioned by Artes Mundi and National Museum Wales. The exciting performance will see a series of revolving organists performing the 1959 hit song “Il Cielo In Una Stanza” (The Sky in a Room) on the 1774 Sir Watkins Williams Wynn organ, and will run from 3 February to 11 March at National Museum Cardiff.

In 2015, following his participation in the Artes Mundi 6 exhibition, the Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson was awarded the £30,000 Derek Williams Trust purchase award, which enables National Museum of Wales to purchase artworks by Artes Mundi shortlisted artists.

The purchase was made possible thanks to the generous support of the Derek Williams Trust and the ArtFund, and will become part of Wales’s contemporary art collection at National Museum Cardiff which includes works by Rodin, Bridget Riley, Monet and Lucien Freud. This is the first time that a work by Ragnar Kjartansson has been commissioned for a UK public collection.

This exciting new commission will merge historical and contemporary art forms in a space where the visitor becomes witness to a dreamlike, surreal, and sometimes humorous environment typical of Kjartansson’s practice. Centred on the 1774 Sir Watkin Williams Wynn’s organ, a key feature of National Museum Cardiff’s 18th century British art gallery, the performance will include the removal of the full collection of paintings, exposing the ornately patterned light-blue wall fabric and isolating the organ and the performer.

The organ was made in 1774 for Sir Watkin Williams Wynn for his London house in St James’ Square. Williams Wynn is known for being the greatest patron of the arts Wales has ever produced. In the late 1760s he travelled Europe collecting Old Masters paintings and commissioning works by the likes of Sir Joshua Reynolds, founding President of the Royal Academy, as well as enabling dozens of architects, painters and musicians to produce some of their best work.

The song at the centre of the durational performance is and an Italian pop song called “Il Cielo In Una Stanza” (The Sky in a Room), written by one of Italy’s most celebrated songwriters Gino Paoli and was originally recorded by Italian national treasure Mina. Across a five-week period, for five hours a day, a revolving series of organists will perform the song. The song was originally described by the composer as the belief “that love, at any moment, could overcome any barrier or border”.

The song has featured in classic films throughout the 20th century including “Girl With A Suitcase” (1960) and Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” (1990), and has been re-recorded in Italian, English and French including a version by Carla Bruni.

Ragnar Kjartansson said: “The Sky in a Room” is to be set in a blue room exhibiting 18th century British paintings. I want to do a piece about space, the transformation of space in that lovely room. This solitary space, usually filled with glorious artwork, suddenly becomes empty. Then “Il Cielo in una Stanza” is to be played constantly on the ancient organ. It is a song all Italians know, it is almost the Italian national anthem of love. An ode to the transformation of space in that grand blue organ room”.

Known for videos and performances in which music and repetition play an important role, attaining a quasi-hyptonic quality, Kjartansson will draw on these practices to enact “The Sky in a Room”.

Artes Mundi Director and Curator, Karen MacKinnon said: “We are really excited about extending Artes Mundi’s legacy and fuelling a “portal to international art” here in Wales. Working with the National Museum Wales to bring back an Artes Mundi artist and developing a site-specific commission that resonates with this community, this place, this building and being able to purchase that work is amazing”.

The Sky in a Room by Ragnar Kjartansson

February 3rd – March 11th

National Museum Cardiff, Cathays Park, Cardiff, CF10 3NP

Press contact:

Kitty Langton at Midas Public Relations | 020 7361 7876

Opening Times: Tuesday to Sunday10:30am to 16:30pm (continuous performance)

Funders: Derek Williams Trust, ArtFund

Curators: Melissa Hinkin, Exhibitions Officer Artes Mundi; Nicholas Thornton, Curator, National Museum Wales.


About Ragnar Kjartansson:

Kjartansson was born in Reykjavík, Iceland, in 1976, where he continues to live and work. The entire arc of art – ragnar kjartanssonfilm, music, theatre, visual culture and literature finds its way into his video installations, durational performances, drawings and paintings. Performing, acting and staging become key tools in the artist’s attempt to convey sincere emotion and offering a genuine experience to the audience. Repetition is also key to his practice; collaborative performances can last hours, days, weeks or months. Kjartansson’s work The Visitors was shown in Artes Mundi 6, he was also the recipient of the 2015 Derek Williams Trust Purchase Award.

According to Massimiliano Gioni, one of the world’s leading curators and writer for the Artes Mundi 6 catalogue: “All together, the music, the choreographies and the sets [of Ragnar’s work] build up to compose symphonic ensembles that have the theatrical grandiosity of a total work of art and the delusional grandeur of a students’ production, like Wagner performed in a small theater in the province – the twilight of the gods staged at Sunday school”

About Artes Mundi:

Artes Mundi is an international arts organization based in Cardiff, UK. Established in 2002, Artes Mundi is committed to supporting groundbreaking, international, contemporary, visual artists whose work engages with social reality and lived experience. The Artes Mundi Exhibition and prize takes place biennially, running a sustained programme of outreach and learning projects alongside the public exhibition and prize giving. In 2017 the Artes Mundi 7 Prize was awarded to John Akomfrah. Previous winners are; Theaster Gates (2015), Teresa Margolles (2013), Yael Bartana (2010), N S Harsha (2008), Eija-Liisa Ahtila (2006), and Xu Bing (2004). Artes Mundi is publicly funded by the Arts Council of Wales and by Cardiff City Council. Other funders include The Colwinston Charitable Trust, The Myristica Trust and the Waterloo Foundation.

About National Museum Cardiff:

Situated in the heart of Cardiff’s elegant civic center, National Museum Cardiff houses Wales’s national art collection. See five hundred years of magnificent paintings, drawings, sculpture, silver and ceramics from Wales and across the world, including one of Europe’s best collections of Impressionist art with works by Monet, Cézanne, Manet, Renoir, Van Gogh and Rodin.

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