Tag Archives: reviews

Visiting “The Visitors”

“Once again I fall into my feminine ways.”

“Once again I fall into my feminine ways.”

So Ragnar Kjartansson sings, on repeat, while strumming a guitar in a bathtub. Recently I read of the Icelandic performance artist in the New Yorker, which said of him: “Exuberance is Kjartansson’s default mode, in directing as in life.” And so, when I heard he had an exhibition at the Barbican I decided we must go. After all, performance art is not about knowledge, or even story. It’s about experience.

The nine-screen installation “The Visitors” is in a room through a black curtain. A plaque outside describes briefly what you’re about to enter into, but there’s really no way of knowing until you do. People seem to go in but not return. It is Sam, Amy, and myself, and we collect one another before making this seemingly permanent transition. On the other side, eight other performers play different instruments in different rooms of a single house (Rokeby Farm in upstate New York), and over the course of the sixty-four minute running time, they join in with and repeat the artist’s refrain, an ABBA lyric, their voices rising and falling as they give way to melancholy, reflection, bliss.

Together they’re mesmerizing, more so than any art I’ve ever seen, and while there’s a painting-like element there’s also engaging intensity; fine art for the Netflix crowd.

The piece culminates in clamour and rollicking as the nine musicians, having left their posts, collect the friends who have been porch-bound for the duration (just before, an elderly gentleman has aroused himself from a nap and fired off a small cannon), and dance, now singing at the top of their lungs, to the very edge of what we can see. It’s joyous, and then a little lonely being left behind. Are they the visitors, or are we?

When we finally emerge from the room, we’re silent for a moment. “I think I need a little time to assimilate,” Amy says. We all agree, and after wandering around the rest of the exhibit, convene outside by the lake with Icelandic pale ales.

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Heart & Flesh

In a city, it is possible to feel alone, even though you are surrounded by people. But I find it is more likely that you feel right at the heart of everything.

On Wednesday I walk home from work, wearing a blue a-line dress, Adidas trainers, and my leather Kate Sheridan backpack which although the most expensive bag I’ve ever bought is still a little bit Dora the Explorer. I have my phone in hand and so when Sarah sends me a Whatsapp message I immediately see it– “Are you around tonight?”

Sarah is in town for work from Newcastle, where we went to university together. She was a maths star and is now quickly ascending in the world of finance, and I was dyscalculic and still am. I call her and hash out our plan for the evening out loud, which makes me sound crazy but how can I think on such short notice any other way? We decide to do what we always do when she visits: go to Smith’s of Smithfield at the centre of the meat market, where we will order a slab of beef and drink a bottle of wine each. Maybe just ¾ of a bottle if Sam meets us there; we all have work in the morning, after all.

When the three of us are seated and have decided what we’re having, our order is taken by a woman who is not a waitress– she is in her own clothes rather than a black shirt and apron–a manager perhaps? She attempts the upsell: “No starters?”

“Nah,” I answer for the table, which is one of those bad habits I feel remorse for but never do anything to change. “Just the wine!”

When we’ve finished our meal and two bottles of Garganega, water from the day’s earlier torrential downpour finds its way through the ceiling and upon us. Our manager-server rushes to our rescue. “Well!” we all protest, feigning indignation. “I believe we deserve another bottle of wine for this. Free!” We are shocked when she brings us one; her favourite red. We have not succeeded in limiting our alcohol intake, but life is for living and not always in moderation.

The lights are low and the staff are mostly sweeping and trying to stay awake. It is nearly midnight and we have very nearly overstayed our welcome. The hostess, in a crimson dress, well-coiffed, and confident, approaches us encouragingly with the card reader.

“How old are you, if you don’t mind me asking?” Sarah ventures as we are paying.

“Twenty-two.”

We learn she is from Poland, is here studying, and has been in London since she was eighteen when she moved “for love.” After we have paid, we toast Poland, because everyone comes here from everywhere, for every reason, to do everything. It means London has a lot of heart.