Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson’s exhibition “Me, My Mother, My Father, and I” was an intensely familial affair. Kjartansson’s parents, both actors, were his muses and collaborators in this exploration of family ties and tics that mingle the autobiographical and the fictive in ways that are pure Kjartansson, whimsical but also unsettling, beginning with a photo from 1990, showing the young artist at his confirmation party, his parents towering over him.
Flash forward, a nearby monitor featured Me and My Mother, three videos of his mother spitting in his face—part of an ongoing project begun in 2000, and a further commentary on family relationships.
There was also a new series of roiling, fine-line pencil-and-charcoal drawings of Icelandic waters called “The Raging Pornographic Sea” that Kjartansson made with his father as a kind of father-son bonding. Here, the title transformed the life-spawning ocean into something titillating.
Occupying most of the fourth-floor gallery, however, was Take Me Here by the Dishwasher: Memorial for a Marriage (2011/2014), which projected a scene from the remastered 1977 Mordsaga (Murder Story), the first Icelandic feature film, which starred the artist’s mother and father. In the scene, his mother’s character fantasizes about having sex on the kitchen floor with the plumber, acted by his father. According to family lore, Kjartansson was conceived that night.
As part of this piece, ten musicians took up positions throughout the space for the duration of the exhibition, on chairs and a couch, with a cache of beer bottles at their feet—each guitarist singing and repetitively strumming a plangent composition by Kjartan Sveinsson, formerly of the Icelandic band Sigur Rós.
While this exhibition did not have the exuberance, sense of mischief, and joie de vivre salted with melancholy that have made so many of Kjartansson’s projects irresistible—perhaps because there was less of his physical presence here—its emotional ease was disarming as always, and eventually persuasive.
A version of this story originally appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of ARTnews on page 92.