Ragnar Kjartansson Will Use Unnerving Love Songs to Launch a New San Francisco Performance Art Foundation

The Icelandic artist will dissect the patriarchal leanings of the love song in a durational performance at C Project in November.

Ragnar Kjartansson in front of the MAESTRAPEACE Mural at the San Francisco Women's Building. Photo by Quinn Gravier.
Ragnar Kjartansson in front of the MAESTRAPEACE Mural at the San Francisco Women's Building. Photo by Quinn Gravier.

San Francisco is getting a new organization dedicated to performance art. C Project, which will host site-specific events in a variety of nontraditional venues across the city, is the brainchild of local collector Carla Emil. The initiative will kick off its run of original performance-based art experiences in November with a newly commissioned work from Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson.

“I complained for a long time” about San Francisco’s lack of venues like the Park Avenue Armory in New York and the Turbine Hall at London’s Tate Modern, which present genre-spanning, ambitious art projects, Emil told artnet News. “And then I decided I would do it myself.”

A board member of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art for the past 19 years, Emil and her husband Rich Silverstein boast a collection of art by the likes of John McCracken, Dan Flavin, Roni HornMaurizio Cattelan, Kurt Schwitters, Alexander Calder, and Pipilotti Rist.

“I’m very involved in the art world here and I’ve felt for long time that there’s something missing in this city that I see in other major cities,” Emil said. “The word immersive is a bit overused, but it really does does describe it best—an immersive art experience, rather than art on the walls.”

C Project’s inaugural presentation, Romantic Songs of the Patriarchy, will be curated by Tom Eccles, the executive director of the Bard Center of Curatorial Studies in Annandale-on-Hudson. The Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson plans to stage a series of love songs—and reveal their dark underbellies in the process.

Carla Emil and her husband Rich Silverstein. Photo by Andreas Branch, ©Patrick McMullan.

Carla Emil and her husband Rich Silverstein. Photo by Andreas Branch, ©Patrick McMullan.

The immersive site-specific durational performance—Kjartansson’s first live work in San Francisco—will take place over three days, from November 9 to 11, at the Women’s Building in San Francisco’s Mission District. Although the show will be free and open to the public, visitors will need to reserve timed tickets.

Emil became friends with Eccles during a stint on the board at Bard, and he quickly agreed to curate C Project’s first show. When the two met to discuss possible artists, Emil had recently seen “Ragnar Kjartansson/The National: A Lot of Sorrow” at the Art Institute of Chicago, and couldn’t stop thinking about it. It turned out Eccles shared her appreciation. “When I suggested Ragnar,” Emil said, “it was the end of the conversation.”

Unlike A Lot of Sorrow, in which the National played their song “Sorrow” on repeat for an exhausting six hours, Romantic Songs of the Patriarchy will feature a number of love songs in different genres, all written by men—although some of the performers will be female. On first listen, the music will appear to be your typical, run-of-the-mill love songs. Listening as they are sung on repeat, however, viewers will slowly come to realize that the songs’ attitudes toward women are often more disturbing than they appear at first blush.

Ragnar Kjartansson in front of the <em><a href=http://www.maestrapeaceartworks.com/ target="_blank">MAESTRAPEACE Mural</a></em> at the San Francisco Women's Building. Photo by Quinn Gravier.

Ragnar Kjartansson in front of the MAESTRAPEACE Mural at the San Francisco Women’s Building. Photo by Quinn Gravier.

“On the surface, the lyrics seem very banal, but when you get deeper they are saying something more complicated,” said Emil. “The songs take on interesting context when they’re sung by women.”

Kjartansson is still in the process of finalizing the song list. He’s being assisted, unofficially, by the staff of the Women’s Building, a local community center and nonprofit that serves women in need. A large percentage of the population served by the center, as well as its staff, are Latina, and “they’ve shared a lot of amazing Latin songs with us,” Emil said.

It’s important to her that C Project’s programming engage with the local community. To that end, the performers in “Romantic Songs” will all be local. “We’re interested in making the performers representative of the kinds of people who live in San Francisco,” Emil noted. “I’m looking at this as something that appeals to people who wouldn’t normally go to a museum—who maybe have never been to a museum.”

“Ragnar Kjartansson: Romantic Songs of the Patriarchy” is on view at the Women’s Building, 3543 18th Street #8, the Mission, San Francisco, November 9–11, 2018.


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