This past spring, artist Ragnar Kjartansson set sail at The Contemporary’s Laguna Gloria in Austin with his new immersive kinetic sound sculpture: the S.S. Hangover. We had the pleasure of partnering with The Contemporary to capture this absurdist performance art.
The S.S. Hangover is a restored Icelandic wooden fishing boat, inspired by a prop from the 1935 comedy film, Remember Last Night?, with a billowing sail that features a mythical pegasus. Six musicians from Austin’s contemporary chamber orchestra, Density512, make up the performative aspect of this immersive art experience. The musicians play a piece composed by former Sigur Ros member Kjartan Sveinsson on loop for four hours each day of the exhibition. When creating this video, our strategy was to match the simplicity of the piece, so we boarded the S.S. Hangover to let the ethereal and surreal quality of the work speak for itself.
The inherent absurdity of a chamber orchestra on the lake is heightened by the long duration of the work. The boat sails in circles to the looping song with no set destination; stuck in repetition. Kjartansson’s work challenges his performers both mentally and physically. While the performers attempt to hide their growing strain, the spectators remain unaware of their exertion.
According to the Contemporary, Ragnar’s multidisciplinary practice is in itself a hybrid. Having first trained as a painter, Kjartansson now works primarily in film, video, and performance, and is as likely to bring musicians, actors, and theater sets into galleries as to perform himself for the camera. S.S. Hangover, like much of his theatrical live and video works, charts a trajectory back to the artist’s youth backstage watching his parents’ repetitive rehearsals and plays in Reykjavik theaters, where his father was a director and his mother an actor. What sets Kjartansson apart is his knack for incorporating an array of mediums and themes into his art. Our goal was to highlight the performative, sculptural, and musical aspects of this multi-disciplinary piece. Another key component was the setting, Laguna Gloria, so we aimed to capture the natural beauty of this location.
Our Director of Photography, Drew Xanthopoulos, focused on the smallest of details to capture the breadth of the work. Blues and greens paint each frame of the video, from the water, trees, sky, to the boat itself, while the musicians, clothed in white cocktail attire, stand out against their duochromatic background. Close ups of the musicians and their instruments highlight their physical strain, and are juxtaposed with shots of onlookers leisurely enjoying the piece. Xanthopoulos shot the video entirely handheld, utilizing all natural light. When creating the look for this video, we wanted the style to fit with the natural flow of the music and rocking of the boat; shooting handheld allowed us to accomplish this. However, despite being handheld, the shots are stable and smooth, which matches the languid quality that the artwork produces.
We’re pleased to have collaborated with the Contemporary Austin for another incredibly unique project. The Contemporary Austin reflects the spectrum of contemporary art through exhibitions, commissions, education, and the collection. They aspire to be the contemporary art museum for Austin and an essential part of city life. Through its unique combination of urban and outdoor sites, The Contemporary embodies an eclectic and collaborative spirit. We look forward to highlighting more of their work on display in the future, in the hopes of bringing attention to a variety of contemporary artists on view.