Ragnar Kjartansson

Guit Trip

In Guilt Trip (2007), Kjartansson works with Laddi, a comedian, who has been present throughout the lives of the generation of Icelanders of which the artist is part. He has invented countless characters, performing on television, radio, in theater, film and on music albums. The entire nation has most likely at some point been at the verge of wetting themselves with laughter when Laddi has slipped into one of his roles. Then there is the paradox; no one seems to know the actor. Behind multiple identities of extreme personas and a support layer of the artistic alias “Laddi” resides the person, Thorhallur Sigurdsson. He is a reclusive man, so known for his shyness that the media long ago gave up trying to interview him. To the public he is a tabula rasa – one day he is opening a bar, the next he is selling holiday homes in Spain. This performer, who has been adamant in separating his art and personal life, is now seen in Ragnar Kjartansson’s video, hiking in the wilderness with a rifle and a bag of bullets. There is no wig, no makeup, no character and – perhaps most surprisingly - no comic relief. Occasionally he fires his weapon aimlessly before heading on and shooting again. It is clear that Kjartansson has scripted this and directed, he did not document an everyday act of this person. Around the video he has constructed a painted environment, suggesting the bare winter landscape that the man is walking through. Here and there are painterly strokes of distant explosions mirroring the gunshots. Other paintings are variations on a theme of conflicted expression, props or extras blurting out emotions in a stage set for the performance in the video. Rather than the video being an extension of the painting installation, however, they derive from it, for at the center of the work is the indistinct identity of the gunman.
Guilt Trip in a way is a tribute to Laddi. It would not have been conceived with any other actor. Kjartasson highlights the paradox of the actor by choosing a person, who is only known as a multitude of identities. The work respects his anonymity without suggesting any of his previous, well-known characters. It sets him in a situation free from the pressure of acting a role; the physical undertaking of the hike and the expressive gesture of firing the gun consume all attention. What is the guilt? One is tempted to interpret the gun as a substitute for his professional effort. Much like the hunter, the comedian relies on the right time and the right place for success. Paradoxically Laddi is in the middle of nowhere aiming coincidentally at nothing – he might as well be shooting blanks. Has he wasted his life entertaining an unknown audience? Has he lost himself on the way? Are the targets for his bullets the numerous identities that he has put out there? Yet again, Kjartansson has thwarted the clear distinction between art and life, contesting the truth in performance, the very nature of which is a lie.

© Ragnar Kjartansson, www.GalerieAdler.com