Ragnar Kjartansson / Me and My Mother


Ragnar Kjartansson (b. 1976, Reykjavík, Iceland) is motivated by the spectrum of human experience and in particular by the proximity of tragedy to comedy. Known primarily for his performative work, Kjartansson oftentimes references nostalgic imagery from bygone eras of theater, television, music, and art as a basis for connecting fundamental themes of life and death to our everyday reality. Me and My Mother I (2001) is an early piece in which the artist has instructed his mother to repeatedly spit in his face for 10 minutes. Kjartansson has, thus far, repeated the performance every five years with Me and My Mother II (2005), and Me and My Mother III (2010). Each episode is staged the same, with the artist and his mother standing in front of a bookcase filled with literary classics. The deadpan expression of the artist offsets the exhausted, desperate attempt by the mother to produce enough saliva to spit on his face. Humorous yet painful to watch, the piece recalls the tortured durational performances of the 1970s, albeit with an overtly comical Freudian twist. Like his recent project The End, this early video attempts to break down sacred, time-honored perceptions through repetition, denigration, exhaustion, and catharsis while simultaneously functioning as a double portrait of the artist and his mother.

Special thanks to Kristen Becker, Luhring Augustine Gallery, New York.

About the Art Center's Single-channel program.
Ragnar Kjartansson
Me and My Mother I, 2001
Video DVD, 10 minutes, edition 5/6
Des Moines Art Center Permanent Collections; Purchased with funds from Kenneth E. Hartman by exchange, 2010.113.

entirely unexpected