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Ragnar Kjartansson, The Sky in a Room, 2018–2020 Performance view, the Church of San Carlo al Lazzaretto, Milan, Italy, 2020

Ragnar Kjartansson, The Sky in a Room, 2018–2020 Performance view, the Church of San Carlo al Lazzaretto, Milan, Italy, 2020. Photo: Marco De Scalzi.

IN THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY, San Carlo al Lazzaretto was built as a field altar that permitted plague victims to eat of the body and drink of the blood in open air. Two Fridays ago, the church was hemmed in not by the sick, but by loud bargoers unaware of a different form of communion taking place inside. It was the twenty-fifth day of Ragnar Kjartansson’s durational performance The Sky in a Room and the beginning of the end of a summer lull in Milan’s coronavirus cases. A human-sized condom cutout flanked a mobile STD clinic in the church plaza, its cartoonish smile suggesting: We’re all fucked. Winter is coming. Go back inside again, it’s time for round two of your lonely quarantine.

Inside the small octagonal chapel, Kjartansson selected seven soloists to repeat the same Italian love song six hours a day, every day from September 22 to October 25, as an antidote to this Covid-imposed fate. Appropriately, the midcentury hit by Gino Paoli, “Il cielo in una stanza” (The Sky in a Room), describes someone so inspired by the altering power of love that their sad chamber melts away: “When you are here with me / This room has no walls anymore / but trees, infinite trees…”  For Kjartannson, the song, which found its widest audience in Mina’s 1960 rendition, is “about this kind of transformation that can happen in isolation.” In other words, a positive spin on a year of delirious confinements. 

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