New Museum of Contemporary Art
235 Bowery at Prince St.
Through Sunday, June 29, $16
“This is it. Is this it?” a group of musicians sing over and over again on the fourth floor of the New Museum. Today, after more than eight weeks, it will finally be it for the ten guitarists and vocalists who have been performing the song “Take Me Here by the Dishwasher: Memorial for a Marriage” as part of Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson’s first museum show, “Me, My Mother, My Father, and I.” Since May 7, the ten troubadours — eight of whom have remained with the project for its duration — have been playing the song, composed by former Sigur Rós member Kjartan Sveinsson, while sitting on chairs, a couch, stools, or mattresses or walking around barefoot or in socks, boots, or sneakers as a short clip from the first Icelandic feature film, director Reynir Oddsson’s 1977 Morðsaga (Murder Story), is repeated on the far wall. In the scene, Kjartansson’s mother plays a housewife who fantasizes about having sex in the kitchen with the plumber, played by Kjartansson’s father. Supposedly, Kjartan Ragnarsson and Guðrún Ásmundsdóttir had sex for real the next night, conceiving Ragnar. Sveinsson’s ethereal composition, which hints at such familiar tunes as Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb,” the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses,” and David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” becomes a kind of meditative mantra that really can be listened to for hours on end, highlighted by the central recognizable phrase “by the dishwasher” (where the on-screen couple make love). Audience members are encouraged to sit in one of the chairs or lie on a mattress that isn’t being used and even chat with the performers, particularly when they go on break; unsurprisingly, the ten men have received many telephone numbers during the length of the show. (However, keep away from the refrigerator; the beer is for the band only.)
Meanwhile, in a corner of the space, the video Me and My Mother is looped on a small monitor, depicting Kjartansson’s mom spitting in his face every five years; it was hard not to consider whether the band members have ever thought about spitting on Kjartansson as well, but it turns out that “Me, My Mother, My Father, and I” is not torturous at all. What makes it so visceral is how the musicians approach the song; instead of merely going through the motions, they invest themselves in it, keeping it fresh and alive despite the endless repetition, interacting with the crowd and each other. One guitarist suddenly struts to the center, singing loudly. Another starts noodling on the six-string, adding bluesy notes or echoes of Jerry Garcia. Another is rejuvenated by his girlfriend giving him a shoulder rub as he plays. Yet another, seeing one of his compatriots nodding off, goes over and gives him a little kick, and both jump into action. Several react when a woman gets off a mattress and starts dancing and twirling. And then, as if by magic, the ten musicians gather together for a final flourish fifteen minutes before closing time. Last year, Kjartansson presented “A Lot of Sorrow” at MoMA PS1, in which Brooklyn band the National performed its song “Sorrow” for six consecutive hours in the VW Dome. “Me, My Mother, My Father, and I” takes such durational performance to a whole new level, an inspiring and inspirational show that gets into your soul. You might never look at your dishwasher the same way again.