New life for an old post office
It was only a day trip we made to Nashville, but there was time for a bit more viewing than just the Parthenon. Pretty much as a shot in the dark, and armed only with sketchy guidebook on the iPad, we opted to go to the Frist Center for the Visual Arts. It turned out to be a very lucky choice (and not only because it had a rather nice caff attached).
The Frist has been converted out of what was the old main post office in town -- one of the grandest and most distinguished post office, you could ever hope to enter, in the finest and most extravagant art deco style.
And with the most wonderful details and vistas (this photo of the stair well by Jay Farkas).
The Frist doesn't have a permanent collection, so it was a question of deciding which of the temporary shows to have a look at. We ruled out the Samurai exhibition (Japanese soldiery, being not much our cup of tea), and opted instead, a bit tentatively, for Ragnar Kjartansson's nine-screen video installation, The Visitors. We ended up staying more or less the full hour it lasted.
It was completely and compulsively mesmerising. The whole thing is set in the decaying splendour of the Astors' "Rokeby Farm" in New York state. Eight screens show individual musicians playing alone but together, in separate rooms connected to each other by head phones (just occasionally they go and visit each other). That's Kjartansson himself with the guitar in the bath...
And the ninth screen shows the house's residents and assorted friends on the verandah.
The dominant line sung repeatedly is "Once again I fall into my feminine ways", from a poem by Kjartansson's ex-wife. In some sense, though I wouldn't like to say exactly what, the whole thing (right up to the end, when the asssembled musical company plus residents walk off across the countryside) seemed to be an elegy for a dead marriage. And it just kept you looking, revelling in the tiniest details (like how Kjartansson got out of the bath, when the others took a cigarette break, and so on). And it was enlivened by the general jollity of the other viewers, who found themselves as surprised as we were that they were enjoying it quite so much.
We came home congratulating ourselves on the find, and how amazing it was to go all the way to Nashville to discover the work of this Icelandic guy we really liked... and other such slightly self-satisfied thoughts. The self-satisfaction was immediately rather punctured by the son, however, who pointed out that the same installation had actually been at the Barbican a couple of months ago. Not only had we missed it, we hadn't even noticed.
I wouldn't have skipped the old post office for the world, but we hadn't actually needed to go to Tennessee to discover The Visitors.