As part of a new series of contemporary installations, The Met presents the world premiere of a major new work: Death Is Elsewhere (2019), a seven-channel video installation by the acclaimed Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson. Provocatively rethinking the possibilities for performance and video art, Kjartansson makes work in which he simultaneously evokes Romantic clichés while using irony, nihilism, and absurdity to undermine them.
Death Is Elsewhere is the most recent in a series of durational performance-based works in which a single song is performed without beginning or end, in a nearly continuous loop. Filmed around the time of the summer solstice shortly after midnight in southern Iceland, Death Is Elsewhere features male and female pairs of twins (Kjartansson’s frequent collaborators: the musicians Gyða and Kristín Anna Valtýsdóttir, and Aaron and Bryce Dessner of the National), performing the title song against a landscape of sublime natural beauty, as they move continuously across seven screens, encircling the viewer. Despite the idyllic setting and dulcet song, the specter of death is omnipresent.
I visited the Met during the summer of 2019 when this work was on display. I was on the way out of the museum actually, and I noticed that there were screens encircling a few viewers who were following a pair on screen. I was intrigued by the screens, but when I got closer to view the title sign for the exhibition I noticed the Dessner twins names, whom as the article states belong to US band, “the National.” Ultimately this is what pulled me over the edge to spend a significant amount of time in the space.
I have included this artwork because there were several parallels about human connection and presence that I found inspiring. The experience was incredibly immersive, and the screens were large enough to display both sets of twins to life-like scales. Each twin was paired an opposite twin and they performed in tandem, whilst walking in a circle around the viewer. It was as if you were being given a private concert and the “stage” enveloped the crowd. As corny as it sounds, I truly felt sung to in a way that I haven’t experienced in a massive crowd at a traditional concert.