Ragnar Kjartansson, The Sky in a Room

25 June – 3 July 2022
St Mary Magdalene Church, Tanworth-in-Arden

Ikon (Birmingham) presents The Sky in a Room, a major off-site project with Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson, organised in collaboration with Artes Mundi.


The Sky in a Room involves professional singers taking turns to perform an ethereal arrangement of Il Cielo in una Stanza, the famous song by Gino Paoli, originally released in 1960. Simultaneously playing the church organ, the singers repeat the piece uninterrupted for five hours a day for nine days, like a never-ending lullaby.


The performances take place each day, 2-7pm, at St Mary Magdalene Church, Tanworth-in-Arden, in the heart of the Warwickshire countryside. The setting is profoundly appropriate for Kjartansson’s work – which is characterised by a sense of melancholy – as it is also the place where singer-songwriter Nick Drake is buried.


The Sky in a Room is a work by artist Ragnar Kjartansson, whose artistic practice engages multiple mediums, creating video installations, performances, drawings and paintings that draw upon myriad historical and cultural references. An underlying pathos and irony connect his works, with each deeply influenced by the comedy and tragedy of classical theatre. The artist blurs the distinctions between mediums, approaching his painting practice as performance, likening his films to paintings, and his performances to sculpture. Throughout, Kjartansson conveys an interest in beauty and its banality, and he uses durational, repetitive performance as a form of exploration.


The project, originally co-commissioned by Artes Mundi, Cardiff and Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, and supported by the Derek Williams Trust and Art Fund, was first performed in 2018.  As part of the work, all the paintings, objects and decorative furniture from the National Museum’s Art in Britain 1700-1800 gallery were removed, leaving just the 18th century chamber organ in the centre of the room (a documentation of this performance is available here). In 2020 The Sky in a Room took place in the Church of San Carlo al Lazzaretto in Milan – conceived in the wake of the Covid-19 lockdown which affected the lives of millions of Italians, especially the citizens of Lombardy.


Now Ikon presents The Sky in a Room at St Mary Magdalene, a quintessentially English church and Grade I listed building, dating from the 14th century. Situated in the heart of the village community, the church is also famous as the location of Nick Drake’s grave, and the focus of an annual pilgrimage for his followers, not least in 2022 which marks the 50th anniversary of the Pink Moon album. St Mary Magdalene Church will also have just completed a redevelopment project in order to create a welcoming, accessible space for the community. The Sky in a Room launches the newly renovated Church.


The performers for Ikon’s presentation have been recruited in collaboration with Echo, a vocal ensemble comprising young professional singers from across the UK. Each will take their turn in a continuous performance of Il Cielo in una Stanza.


Event information:

Daily performances, 25 June – 3 July, 2-7pm. No need to book, just drop in. Donations welcome – please support the redevelopment of St Mary Magdalene Church.


How to get to Tanworth-in-Arden:

Tanworth-in-Arden is located 14.5 miles southeast of Birmingham and 5.5 miles northeast of Redditch. St Mary Magdalene Church postcode: B94 5AL. The closest train station is Danzey Green (1.2 miles from Tanworth).


Credit: Ragnar Kjartansson: The Sky in a Room, 2018. Performer, organ and the song "Il Ceilo in una Stanza" by Gino Paoli (1960). Courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York and i8 Gallery, Reykjavik. Photo: Hugh Glendinning.

Il Cielo in una Stanza is the best song I know about the transformation of space. Gino Paoli wrote it in the 50s and got the idea when lying in bed with a woman at a brothel he had fallen in love with. Thinking of that lovely moment and how feelings transform space, how the walls of the room changed into endless woods he got that melody into his head. It is a song all Italians know, it is almost the Italian national anthem of love. Space and love. An ode to the transformation of space. The Sky in a Room.

Ragnar Kjartansson