In January 2016, MOCAD presents a major new performance by Ragnar Kjartansson, the Icelandic artist known for creating spellbinding installations which are equal parts music, performance, sculpture, and cinema. Superlatives are well-suited to his work: he tackles expansive themes using the most ambitious forms. Inspired by the music scene in Reykjavik, where he lives and works, he has created numerous immersive compositions that often involve live musical performances. To realize these large-scale productions, he collaborates prolifically with other artists, including The National, the Vienna Boys Choir, and Icelandic musicians Kjartan Sveinsson and Davíð Þór Jónsson.
Unlike the G-scale, which is commonly used in love songs, E-minor conveys a melancholy, reflective feel. In Kjartansson's haunting new work created for MOCAD, this pensive chord reverberates throughout the museum building, growing stronger as it bounces off the architecture. Woman in E revolves around a single, central figure: a woman dressed in a gold gown, standing on a rotating pedestal. The central figure plays the electric guitar without accompaniment, alone with the instrument and an amp. The atmosphere around her glitters as the notes rebound off the walls and ceiling, creating a deep, guttural tremolo. With its ethereal feel and symbolic references, the work conjures Detroit’s history as a hotbed of sonic innovation that gave birth to Motown and Techno alike.
The piece is also a nod to classic, representational sculpture. The protagonist powerfully embodies multiple tropes of femininity at once—she is a goddess, conqueror, and siren—but eludes a single narrative. The result is a portrait of vulnerability and prowess, of objectification and self-possession. Woman in E is at once an investigation of idolatry, a living monument to Detroit, and an abstracted icon, custom built for the city.
Image: Ragnar Kjartansson, Woman in E, sketch for a performance, 2015