The 'S.S. Hangover' Sets Sail At Laguna Gloria

Apr 17, 2018

Ragnar Kjartansson, S.S. Hangover, 2013

"This project just immediately captured my attention," says Andrea Mellard, the Contemporary Austin's director for public programs. "I could immediately imagine what it would look like to see this vintage Icelandic fishing boat -- that's been outfitted to look a little like a Venetian gondola -- flying under the plump Pegasus sail, with the musicians in their formal wear. ... It just seemed like something out of a dream."

She's describing the kinetic sound sculpture created by Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson, in which the boat she describes (itself inspired by a boat in the 1935 film Remember Last Night?) carries a six-piece brass band, who play the same six-minute musical piece over and over, for hours on end. The work was created for and first displayed in Venice, and has also sailed the Harlem Meer in New York's Central Park. Now, it's spending the spring in the lagoon at the Contemporary Austin's Laguna Gloria.

"It was kind of designed for Venice, but it's really fun to see it in other places as well," says Kjartan Sveinsson (of Sigur Rós fame), who composed the music for S.S. Hangover. "You get... new life into it, and I think it's very interesting to see it. And where it is now is a beautiful setting, and I'm hoping the sound is going to travel very well."

Jacob Schnitzer, the co-artistic director of the Austin music collective Density 512, will be playing French horn aboard the S.S. Hangover, and he's up for the challenge, though he's never before performed the same piece for hours, or performed on a boat at all. "Density 512 is ... really interested in exploring the different ways that you might find classical music in today's environment, as well as whatever crazy things people are dreaming up," he says. "So this is just a really exciting opportunity for us to explore music in a completely different context and a whole different environment."

The boat's sail features a sort of unofficial mascot for the piece in the form of an unusually plump Pegasus. "That could mean a lot of things," says Mellard. "One of the things that I take from that is failure. How, with any risk, there's chances that you might soar or you might plummet. And this is certainly an unusual project and a challenging project, but I think it will soar."

The S.S. Hangover will set sail at Laguna Gloria through May 6, and will remained docked and visible from the shore through June 3.