Santa Barbara – A Living Sculpture by Ragnar Kjartansson

4 Dec 2021–13 Mar 2022

The project by Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson takes the form of a living sculpture, created for the GES-2 House of Culture.

The first American soap opera in Russia and the longest in the history of its television, Santa Barbara heralded a cultural phenomena of the post-Soviet space of the 1990s: the influx of imported melodramas. The population entered the unsettling world of consumer culture through Santa Barbara, relying on the emotional experience they acquired watching it. The serial as a phenomenon has arguably played a major role in the cultural history of contemporary Russia.

The artistic method of Ragnar Kjartansson revolves around theatricality and ritual and their common feature — repetition and playback. His works include performances, films, musical works, paintings and drawings. In his new creation, Kjartansson combines his interest in exploring the role of the past in the present with the restaging of scores and scripts to conjure up the experience of emotional symbols and attachments.

With this monumental work, Ragnar Kjartansson pays homage to Russian culture and its passion for the ability of art, fiction and theatre to convey emotions. Re-staging a fundamental part of the 1990s social and cultural landscape produces a collectively constructed, live history painting.

– Francesco Manacorda, artistic director of V–A–C Foundation

Under Kjartansson’s direction, a professional film crew headed by director Ása Helga Hjörleifsdóttir will stage, shoot and release about 100 episodes of the soap opera in Russian. The shooting of each episode needs to be completed in a day. Actors (professionals and amateurs) will work as though they were in a theatre: all the scenes will be shot in a single take. The sets, costumes and props of each episode reproduce those used in the original serial.

By re-shooting series after series without stopping at a venue open to the public, Kjartansson will compose a kind of large-scale historical painting that turns into a live performative sculpture. The challenge of such a titanic endeavor is largely determined by Kjartansson’s interest in how situations and emotions are transformed over time, and how transformations can suddenly lead to the emergence of an emotional community.

Ragnar Kjartansson’s sketch for the Santa Barbara living sculpture

In the grandiose set, all the mechanisms of the theatre and film industry will function as a spectacular dynamic sculpture, synchronizing the past with the present and the future. Kjartansson’s Santa Barbara is also a reflection of the influence of fiction on history, modernity and reality. The pervasiveness of fabricated events, the multiplicity of pseudo-realities — all the signs of today’s mass media that are addressed in the performance become the starting point of the narrative of the Holy Barbarians programme.

Ragnar Kjartansson draws on the entire arc of art in his performative practice. The history of film, music, theatre, visual culture and literature find their way into his video installations, durational performances, drawing and painting. Pretending and staging become key tools in the artist’s attempt to convey sincere emotion and offer a genuine experience to the audience.
Kjartansson’s work has been widely exhibited. Recent solo exhibitions and performances have been held at the Kunstmuseum Stuttgart, Metropolitan Museum of Art New York, Barbican Art Gallery in London, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington DC, Reykjavik Art Museum, Palais de Tokyo in Paris, and New Museum in New York. Kjartansson represented Iceland at the Venice Biennale, and in 2013 his work was featured at the Biennale’s main exhibition, The Encyclopedic Palace. Kjartansson was born in 1976 in Reykjavík and studied at the Iceland Academy of the Arts and The Royal Academy, Stockholm.

Ragnar Kjartansson, Santa Barbara, 2021-22, durational performance
Director: Ása Helga Hjörleifsdóttir
Staging and production: Lorem Ipsum
Commissioned by V–A–C Foundation, Moscow
Courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York and i8 Gallery, Reykjavik
Based on the series originally created by Bridget and Jerome Dobson
SANTA BARBARA Ⓒ 1984 Twentieth Century Fox Television, all rights reserved

You can find out more information about the adaptation of events in the Accessibility page
  • Audio description
  • Sign language interpreter