What: A Lot Of Sorrow - Ragnar Kjartansson
featuring The National
Where: MoMA PS1
Date: Sunday, May 5, 2013
Lowdown: Brooklyn rock group The
National performed one song, for six hours straight. Which was exactly as mundane, insane, and fun as it sounds.
From The Notebook: "Einstein on the Beach
meets Spinal Tap. Or Zero Dark Thirty's torture scenes as written by Jonathan Ames."
Takeaway: In another dimension, Taylor Swift might be Marina Abramović.
A little before noon on Sunday, when the performance was set to start, a line stretched around two blocks of MoMA PS1. Around 12:15 p.m., sound started to leak from inside the giant, white dome erected in the courtyard of the museum, as the handlers started to let people into the courtyard. And that sound? The National's "Sorrow," a three-and-a-half minute song about depression and regret overwhelming everything. But a catchy one.
In the courtyard, the concertgoers/museum visitors/performance art crowd were lined up outside of the dome, on a one-in, one-out basis. At the beginning of the performance, the lines moved quickly: People were going in and streaming out every time the song would end...and begin again. As we made our way into the dome, this writer (a big National fan who's generally skeptical of performance art as a serious medium) and their significant other/reluctant attendee (a casual National fan, but down for performance art wackiness if only for curiosity) did what we do at every concert: Brush by the main throng of people in the center, and headed to the side of the dome where the crowd had thinned out. The gray dome was sparsely lit by a few spotlights that projected the shadows of the band onto the ceiling, with atmosphere provided by the occasionally excessive plume of stage fog. And here's how it would go:
The National would play "Sorrow."
And as soon as the last chords of the song rang out,
The National would start to play "Sorrow" again.
Lead singer Matt Berninger paced around the stage in a suit. The Dressner brothers, on guitar, would generally stay in position. And the Devendorf brothers—on bass and drums—mostly stayed in position as well, along with the horns and keys section the band brought with them. The crowd sat at a low murmer, and didn't applaud the band after each performance. Some people stood in place, some people danced for their first or second viewing of the song, and then left. Nothing much changed from one performance of the song to another.
After watching The National play "Sorrow" for three or four times, we left the dome, put our name on the list for the restaurant at PS1, and joined the throng of people who were sitting on the stairs of PS1, drinking beer, taking in some sun on what was one of the first genuinely great Spring weekends, and listened to The National keep playing the same song, over and over again, by way of the giant speakers mounted outside of the dome.
It was around this time that the performance started to take hold, this weird current that would dictate the tone of the day.
- - -
Inside the restaurant, as the sound of the same song droned on outside, people dined as though they weren't a part of some odd performance experiment, such as it was. The song first became background noise, or "white" noise, to everyone there that day. As if this were a relatively normal thing. Which it's not.