The Sky in a Room
Curated by Massimiliano Gioni
From September 22 to October 25, 2020, the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi will present The Sky in a Room by the Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson (Reykjavík, 1976). The project, staged for the church of San Carlo al Lazzaretto in Milan, was conceived in the wake of the difficult lockdown affecting the public and private lives of millions of Italians—especially the citizens of Lombardy. Accompanied by the church organ of San Carlo al Lazzaretto (also known as San Carlino), professional singers will take turns to perform an ethereal arrangement of Il cielo in una stanza, the famous song by Gino Paoli, originally released in 1960. The piece will be repeated, uninterruptedly, for six hours a day, every day, like a never-ending lullaby.
With a strong symbolic value and taking place in the eighteenth year of the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi’s nomadic activities, the project, initiated by the President Beatrice Trussardi and the Artistic Director Massimiliano Gioni, opens up a dialogue with both the distant and recent past of the city of Milan.
“Il cielo in una stanza is the only song I know that deals with the fundamental nature of visual art, which is its ability to transform space,” the artist explains. “So, in a way, it is purely conceptual. But I also love how it describes the power of the imagination, put on fire by love, to transform the world around us. It is a poem about how love and music can make a small confined space explode, letting in the sky and the trees… Love can read the writing in the remotest star, as Oscar Wilde said.”
Kjartansson’s works—which alternate between video, performance, music, and painting—are characterized by a profound sense of melancholy. Often inspired by the twentieth-century traditions of Nordic theater and literature, they include references that may be traced back to the work of Tove Janson, Halldór Laxness, Edvard Munch, and August Strindberg, among others.
After months spent sealed off in our homes, either alongside our nearest and dearest or far from families and loved ones—perhaps realizing our own loneliness, stuck with those that mistreat us, or grieving those lost to the pandemic—Kjartansson’s performance may be read as a poetic, contemporary memorial. The work is an unusual monument and a civil oratorio in memory of the painful months spent imagining the sky in a room and dreaming of new ways to be together and fight solitude and isolation.
In this presentation, The Sky in a Room (a performance initially commissioned by Artes Mundi and the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff, with the support of the Derek Williams Trust and ArtFund) will be staged in the church of San Carlo al Lazzaretto—the history of which is closely connected with previous epidemics, from the plague of 1576 to that of 1630. The church was made famous in the novel The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni, who cites the Lazzaretto (the hospital and banishment area for plague victims) on various occasions and sets one of the most famous chapters of the story there.
Initially conceived as a field altar in the heart of the Lazzaretto, built by the architect Lazzaro Palazzi, the church was designed by Pellegrino Tibaldi on the orders of Cardinal Carlo Borromeo in 1576. Originally open on all sides so as to allow the sick to attend services while remaining outside, the church was then transformed by the architect Giuseppe Piermarini around the turn of the nineteenth century. After surviving the transformations carried out over almost five centuries, San Carlino is a place that narrates the history of Milan through its deep layers of memories.
In 2017, the church underwent complete restoration envisioned, supported, and curated by Andreina Rocca in memory of her husband Roberto.
The Sky in a Room by Ragnar Kjartansson is part of a series of project carried out since 2013 by the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi: temporary shows, incursions, performances, and pop-up interventions that have brought international artists to Milan such as Ibrahim Mahama, Jeremy Deller, Sarah Lucas, Gelitin, Darren Bader, and Stan VanDerBeek.
The installation The Collectivity Project by Olafur Eliasson—announced previously and originally planned to coincide with Milan Art Week in the spring of 2020—has been postponed to a date yet to be decided. Given its participatory nature, it cannot be carried out at this stage while fully respecting the restrictions in force due to the health emergency.
Ragnar Kjartansson in front of the Sir Watkin Williams Wynn’s 1774 organ in the National Museum Wales’ 18th century British art gallery
Courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York and i8 Gallery, Reykjavik
Ph: Polly Thomas