Hypnotic Melodies

Hypnotic Melodies

Whether through performance, video installation, drawing or painting, Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson (b. 1976) draws viewers into dreamlike situations and meditative states. Often working with music, Kjartansson’s practice is known for a preoccupation with repetition and rhythm, which has seen performances last for hours, days, weeks or months. In a new piece, co-commissioned by National Museum Cardiff and Artes Mundi, the practitioner has created a performance piece that will take place at the museum over a five-week period. For five hours each day, the famous Italian pop song Il Cielo In Una Stanza (The Sky in a Room) is performed by a revolving series of organists on the 1774 Sir Watkin Williams Wynn organ, which is a key feature of National Museum Cardiff’s 18th century British art gallery.

Written by Gino Paoli, one of Italy’s most celebrated songwriters, the piece was originally performed by Italian national treasure, Mina. After its release in 1960, it topped the charts for 11 consecutive weeks before famously featuring in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990) 30 years later. Conveying a strong yet wistful sense of emotion, this haunting song is a hyperbolic ode to love, which when played on repeat takes on an affecting and semi-hypnotic quality. Similarly to A lot of Sorrow, where Kjartansson asked The National to play their song Sorrow on repeat for six hours at MoMA PS1, The Sky in a Room operates on the border between pathos and humour as it pushes both the song and its audience in unexpected directions.

Infiltrating the historic gallery space with a contemporary aesthetic, Kjartansson has described the performance as a “piece about the transformation of space.” With all the paintings removed from the walls for the duration, the organ and its instrumentalist take centre stage as the hit 1960 song is played on repeat. Offering elements of both nostalgia and romanticism, the piece is, as the artist notes: “almost the Italian national anthem of love.”

The Sky in a Room runs at the National Museum of Cardiff from 3 February. Find out more: www.museum.wales/cardiff

Celia Graham-Dixon

1. Ragnar Kjartansson, “God,” 2007, photo: Rafael Pinho. Courtesy the artist, Lubring Augustine, New York and i8 Gallery, Reykjavik.