Every five years, artist Ragnar Kjartansson asks his mother to spit on him for several minutes in front of a camera. The Icelandic mother and son here discuss the fascinating performance, which Kjartansson argues has become “like a part of our family life.”
In 2000, Kjartansson asked his mother if she wanted to spit on him for a video project, which she immediately accepted without any further need for convincing. While spitting, Guðrún Ásmundsdóttir, imagines that her son is one of the businessmen that got Iceland into the financial crash. “When I feel that spit it never feels violent or something, she is just helping her son to do an art piece” Ragnar says, and goes on, “There has always been a lot of friendship in our relationship.”
Kjartansson furthermore explains that both of his parents were “militant feminists”, and that there are feminist undercurrents in his work, such as the spitting echoing how women got ‘a voice’ and were able to ‘spit’: “Being raised by an actor, you start to understand these emotional tools that actors – and directors and people making theatre – use … they use humour and confrontation as tools in making a composition.” Always seeking not to be too literal in his art: “It just doesn’t turn me on.”
Ragnar Kjartansson (b. 1976) is an Icelandic artist, whose work ranges from paintings and drawings to videos, music and performance. Among Kjartansson’s works is his six-hour video ‘A Lot of Sorrow’, which shows the indie rock band The National onstage before a live audience in the VW Dome at MoMA PS1 in New York in 2013 (channel.louisiana.dk/video/kjartanssonthe-national-lot-sorrow). In 2009, at the age of 33, Kjartansson became the youngest artist ever to represent Iceland at the Venice Biennale. Kjartansson’s work has been exhibited widely around the world, from the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston to BAWAG Contemporary in Vienna. In 2011, he won the inaugural Malcolm Award at Performa 11 and in 2014 he was shortlisted for the Artes Mundi prize. He lives in Reykjavik, Iceland.
Ragnar Kjartansson and his mother Guðrún Ásmundsdóttir were interviewed by Kasper Bech Dyg in May 2016, in connection to the Art Alive festival at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark. Extracts from Ragnar Kjartansson’s video works ‘Me and My Mother’ (2000, 2005, 2010 and 2015) are shown during the video.
Camera: Jacob Solbakken
Produced and edited by: Kasper Bech Dyg
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2016