The National Will Play “Sorrow” For 6 Hours At MoMA PS1
MoMA PS1, the Queens outpost of the famed NYC modern art museum, will feature a six-hour long performance of the High Violet track “Sorrow” by the National. Since September, the Long Island City art hub has been hosting a program called Sunday Sessions in the VW Dome in their courtyard. The events have run the gamut from a book lecture by M.I.A., who did a show-and-tell with the laptops she used to make each of her albums, to a performance by I.U.D., the side project of Lizzie Bougatsos (Gang Gang Dance) and Sadie Laska (Growing, Extreme Violence). The conclusion of Sunday Sessions will happen 5/5, when the National will take on this bear of a live show for a piece called “A Lot Of Sorrow” by Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson. It’s unclear from the PS1 website what Kjartansson’s contribution to the piece is, aside from getting the National to play the same song over and over again for a really long time:
By stretching a single pop song into a day-long tour de force the artist continues his explorations into the potential of repetitive performance to produce sculptural presence within sound.
Sorrow found me when I was young,
Sorrow waited, sorrow won
commences the song by The National, whose music and lyrics repeatedly conjure notions of romantic suffering and contemporary Weltschmerz—themes Kjartansson often uses in his own work employing references as wide-ranging as Ingmar Bergman, the German Romantics, and Elvis Presley. As in all of Kjartansson’s performances, the idea behind A Lot of Sorrow is devoid of irony, yet full of humor and emotion. It is another quest to find the comic in the tragic and vice versa.
We have seen this kind of dexterous task before when Fucked Up played for twelve hours in a storefront on the Bowery, but the repetition is what makes this all the more bewildering. I don’t purport to be a fine and visual arts critic, so perhaps I’m off-base here, but having experienced Animal Collective’s Guggenheim performance Transverse Temporal Gyrus and many shows by the aforementioned sound-wall-builders Growing, I am acutely aware that sound sculptures are a very real thing, but that they are constructed through consistently evolving sonics. When you play one song over and over and over again, it eventually becomes static and disappears in the ether. Whether the song ultimately melds into the museum’s surroundings — viewers will only be able to watch the band in the dome for a few minutes at a time, but the music will be audible from outside — or does, in fact, act as an exercise in sculptural sound, remains to be heard. But the piece is appropriately named because it certainly will be a lot of “Sorrow.”