It is Friday evening, on the Strand the rush hour traffic is straining and jerking its way westwards at the end of another working week, looking back to the main road I can see the erratic and unpredictable lights of the traffic as hundreds of road commuters angrily, nervily scratch another few years off their lives with the stress of their slow progress home, “the weekend starts here”, but not quite yet for most. I cross the courtyard of Somerset House and stroll slowly taking in the balance of the low levels of artificial light and the amazing dark blue of the autumn sky at this time of day and time of year, the courtyard is pretty much empty, a few people are scattered behind me at the entrance to the Courtauld Institute for their weekend exhibition of videos and performance titled “Cold Cold Heart”, these are the wine sippers after their PV freebies and later in the evening I drink with the rest of them whilst goggling at artists videos but for now I make my way to the far left hand corner of the courtyard for ‘the performance’.
I stop just outside the main building, I am calm now after the hectic journey here and I fancy gathering my thoughts and enjoying the quiet before finally entering the building. A couple of minutes pass and as I stand still and quiet I can hear a kind of groaning, not quite a shout but a slowly inconsistent drawling growl, it is punctuated by the occasional pause, it is odd. It’s a male voice, crying for help?, not really, affirmatively issuing shouted warnings or statements?, no, not that either, I cant put my finger on it, from this distance and with the muffled voicings coming through the door and windows I fail to decipher not only the words but also their intent. A handful of people are coming and going from the building, a small steady trickle in and out of the open door, I enter. The sound is clearer now, I am at the top of a staircase and a rhythmic rising and falling tone of guitar picking greets me and then I hear the voice, a growling, then soft, then a harsh gravelly half shout and then a melodic singing. The voice of Ragnar Kjartansson and his guitar ascend the open staircase from beneath me, this is not a normal guitar and vocal thing, not a song more a sung chant, you would not describe it within a musical genre either, one thing is for certain though, the song/voice/chant is resonant with pain, suffering, arrogance, defiance and anger; both rebellious anger and the defiant anger of the wounded not bowing to pain. I peer over the bannister and three floors beneath me Kjartansson protrudes from a pile of black dust or earth, it is a deliberately constructed pile of matter and he sits in the centre with his bare torso and guitar showing, the pile of earth is mounded up to just around the lower part of his ribcage or slightly over the height of his waist. I descend the staircase and hear his singing chant, “Satan is real, Satan is working for me..”, over and over, small changes in the guitar pickings and then a return “Satan is real, Satan is working for me”, as I reach the lower floor and pass him he continues his song, he shoots me a pained, aggressive look as he sings out once again “Satan is real, Satan is working for me”, the phrase continues, as I turn and begin to return upstairs to the courtyard this slightly sweaty, greasy haired, blond guy gives the impression of a Scandinavian Robert Johnson figure, has he sold his soul to the devil?, has the deal been done to enable the performance?. This sung phrase and guitar strumming will continue for another two nights and into Sunday, for the long passing of the hours, “Satan is real, Satan is working for me". As he continues and I reach the top of the stairs and leave the building I ask myself whether Satan is real and if so is Satan working for him or is he working for Satan?.