It's not easy to introduce sound as a form of art in a museum, where silence is king and conversations are shushed. Dividing the space to avoid auditive contamination between pieces can be a challenge, but SFMOMA brilliantly set up its 7th floor for this purpose. With a mix of interactive pieces, meditative spaces and playful sculptures, Soundtracks had a bit of everything, and all of it flowed so nicely. From its beautiful blue pond of ceramic bowls clinging softly, to their playful can phone house. But I'm here to talk about my favorite piece from the show - which incidentally became my favorite art piece ever: The Visitors, an immersive video installation by Ragnar Kjartansson.
Let's walk in together, through a discreet dark corner. A single frame on the wall greeting us with an unusual music sheet doodled with "booms" and other colorful notes. We land in a room where the only source of light are 9 big screens. 9 cameras are set in 9 different areas of a beautiful, 200-year-old property in upstate New York. In each, a musician is playing while singing a poem in sync, the artist himself naked in a bathtub. Around me, people are standing, swinging from side to side to the rhythm of the music, walking around. The last ones to arrive are trying to figure out what they are looking at, while some others have found a comfortable spot on the floor from which to observe in silence. We see some smiles, and also some tears, including mine.
The 9 friends and musicians are playing and singing a poem by Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir, Kjartansson's ex-wife, repeating the melancholic lyrics over and over. As the minutes pass in the hour long performance, we see the artists go deeper into an emotional trance. I hear their raw vulnerability. The darkness is cosy, and suddenly I feel the musicians assume the role of my relationships, current and lost; their voices transporting me to my deepest self, opening drawers inside of me I didn't even know existed. I felt calm, free and safe.
The first time I saw this piece, my heart was breaking for many reasons, leaving the home I had built in San Francisco being the main one. That room allowed me to find solace in the dark, in the company of a friend I cried and accepted the heartache and sorrow. After that, I came several times, alone and with friends. I sat and watched the whole thing, I also spent a few minutes, but every time I entered the room, I felt at home.
One of the reasons art has been accompanying us since the very beginning of times, before language even existed, is because it's the purest form of communication. Through art, we share experiences and universal feelings. The visitors is such a successful piece because in the most primitive way, it takes us to a space where it is safe to feel anything, it's okay to be scared, it's normal to be vulnerable, to love and hurt. What beautiful place to take refuge and simply be, the most beautiful poem recital I have ever had the pleasure to attend.
You can get a glimpse of the installation in the video: