Artes Mundi Questionnaire: Ragnar Kjartansson

One of the shortlisted artists for the Artes Mundi 6 prize, the Icelandic artist answers our brief questionnaire

By ArtReview

Ragnar Kjartansson and his parents, 2014. Photo: Ari Magg Ragnar Kjartansson, The Visitors, 2012, Photo: Elisabet Davidsdottir


As one of ten shortlisted artists for Artes Mundi 6, you are presenting a project in a large exhibition, taking place across three venues (the National Museum Cardiff – the exhibition’s regular venue –and also at Chapter Arts Centre and Ffotogallery), through 22 February 2015. Could you tell us a bit more about your project and what form it takes?


When I was looking at the spaces for Artes Mundi 6, Karen MacKinnon suggested the upper floor of Ffotogallery as a good place to show my work. Being a sappy romantic, I felt it was perfect for me. We decided it would be a good location to show my feministic, nihilistic, satanic gospel work, entitled The Visitors. Showing at Ffotogallery alongside Sanja Ivekovic means a lot to me.

My project The Visitors was filmed two years ago in a bohemian-dream mansion in upstate New York. It shows some of my closest friends from the Reykjavík music scene playing on multiple screens, each set in that house. The family that live there are also in it, singing choir on the porch and shooting a cannon. The piece is a celebration of life, melancholy, friendship and femininity. It is also in its way, a study on portraiture. But mainly it is a study in Stockhausenesque approach, or in creating spatial music. Actually, I got to know spatial music through the Flaming Lips´ Zeireeka and since then I have been experimenting with it in my art. Now I just name drop Stockhausen to be proper. I really like the Ffotogallery space for the piece; the acoustics there are the same as in the mansion in upstate New York; same period, same creaking floor. The sounds of the environment in Ffotogallery sound like they come from the video, and vice versa. I really like that.

AR: Artes Mundi aims to support ‘contemporary visual artists who engage with the human condition, social reality and lived experience’. How do you feel your work relates to that definition?

RK: Yes I qualify. What else can I say? I wrote a long answer and deleted it. It was written by a megalomaniac crazy person.

AR: Making work which reflects society as it is today can involve some of its most difficult aspects. What role do you think art should or could play in better highlighting or understanding these issues?

RK: Art should never really play a definite role. Art is a bit satanic in that sense; it´s slippery, not on the prudent hills of Apollo. You always reflect society in any art piece you make, even if you totally denounce it, live in a penthouse and draw minimalistic lines, it is a social statement. I don´t know any artist who is not trying to tackle the human condition. Art always thrives when society is not too difficult and there is time to reflect. I think it is a luxury to be able to face society´s difficult subjects, I mean, there are hardly any artists active in Syria now.

AR: What has the experience been like to be in a group exhibition such as Artes Mundi? Do you feel particular connections with the other artists’ practices? And what do you think could emerge from this experience?

RK: Well first of all I am just really proud to be in this rocks-off show. There are fantastic works there; I was a happy man at the opening. What is emerging from the experience of taking part is basically me being inspired by those great people and eating breakfast with them.

AR: Artes Mundi is the largest monetary prize in the UK, offering £40,000 to the winner. Should you win, how do you plan on using the prize money? Do you have a particular project that you would like to use it to realise?

RK: Me winning would be a waste. No special project in mind, I would just spend it on tobacco and silk scarves.

Artes Mundi 6 will be awarded on 22nd January at a ceremony in Cardiff. The prize show is at National Museum Cardiff, Chapter Cardiff, and Ffotogallery, Penarth until 22 February.