The perk of being a visitor is stepping outside one's experiences and observing the patterns that make up another's life.
In The Visitors, a 64-minute performance piece by Icelandic contemporary artist Ragnar Kjartansson, nine musician friends sing the same hypnotic tune in a 200-year-old New York mansion. The artists are in different rooms but headphones connect them.
"They're all relying on each other to keep the song going," says Megan Lykins Reich, deputy director of program, planning and engagement at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, where it will play from Feb. 6 to May 24.
In a reality TV-driven culture that embraces voyeurism, The Visitors became a cult phenomenon — even causing some viewers to weep — after its debut at Manhattan's Luhring Augustine Gallery in 2013. But this isn't some gossipy Big Brother-like drama. It's an intimate glance into the toll of loneliness as each performer clings to a distant shred of community — in this case, the sullen ballad. The individuals eventually break down before reconvening with the group and departing.
Separate video streams in the exhibit show each musician performing the poem titled Feminine Ways, written by Kjartansson's ex-wife, artist Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir. On one, burly Kjartansson rests naked in a bathtub, strumming his guitar. On another, a pale, Victorian-esque female sits barefoot in the living room, fanning her accordion.
"The result is hypnotizing," says Lykins Reich. "Though you're watching the same thing for an extended period of time, you get drawn in by the voices and by the small changes."