Dating a nonbeliever


Your mother is just pretending—she’s half-laughing. It is not a strong work.’ I was kind of heartbroken, until I realized that what he said about it was wrong.

My mother was spitting on me, and she is an actress.

Kjartansson’s father, Kjartan Ragnarsson, had adapted “World Light” for the theatre, and over the years he had staged three versions in Iceland.

For the most recent production, in 2009, he asked his son to design the set, but Kjartansson was representing Iceland at the Venice Biennale that year, and he couldn’t do it.

He gave the French actors a few suggestions, in English, asking the woman to face in a different direction when she pulls up her stockings, and telling the man, “Remember, you’ve been waiting a year for this to happen.” The actors both spoke enough English to understand his rapid-fire, Icelandic-accented delivery.

After the second run-through, he called out, jubilantly, “That was fucking awesome.

You made me fall in love with both of you.” Exuberance is Kjartansson’s default mode, in directing as in life.

His work appeared in more than twenty exhibitions last year, and this year’s schedule includes one-man shows at museums or contemporary-art centers in Detroit, Montreal, Berlin, Tel Aviv, London, and Washington, D. For his show at the Tel Aviv Center for Contemporary Art in May, Kjartansson will present a series of plein-air paintings he has made of houses in the West Bank.

“The piece is called ‘Architecture and Morality,’ ” he said, smiling broadly.

It repeats continuously, with different actors, working in shifts, for twelve hours a day.

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