Elmgreen & Dragset

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Video Transcript

Damien Whitmore

 

Elmgreen and Dragset are the rising stars of the contemporary art world and in October this year they will be presenting a major exhibition at the V&A and it promises to be absolutely extraordinary. I’ve come to their studio in Berlin to find out more about their ideas, their creative process and what motivates them.

 

This is a former water pumping station and I wonder if that’s a kind of metaphor for how you work together - in terms of the free-flow of ideas and the constant pumping out of work.

 

Michael Elmgreen

 

Yes, filtering a bit of the dirty water and making it into drinkable water, ha ha. There are not many industrial buildings left in Berlin. It was fantastic to find this building and then be able to shape it and transform it after our own needs. Our idea with making a studio this way was to mix private lives with the more work-based activities, the more kind of public areas and where the transitions between your private personal life and your public image is kind of blurred.

 

Damien Whitmore

 

You are very well known in the contemporary art world, obviously, but for V&A visitors you may be less well known. So could you perhaps say a bit about what kind of artists you are, how do you describe yourselves?

 

Ingar Dragset

 

We get our ideas from daily life - anything can inspire us. You know, it can be a newspaper article, it can be a book we have read, it can be a political situation, it can be changes in society.

 

Michael Elmgreen

 

The kind of art we do takes many formats, we use all kind of different materials and aesthetics. We are not really bound to certain materials or certain working practices.

 

The Trafalgar Square piece ‘Powerless Structure Figure 101’ depicts a young boy on a rocking horse. He is situated on the Fourth Plinth were you have had different art projects commissioned for the past ten years. We got commissioned to make something for 2012 - 2013 and decided to show a bronze sculpture in the size of the other sculptures already existing in the Square, working with the issue of a Christian sculpture. Well, next to it is King George [statue] who looks a little bit darker and more dull and serious and we sort of coming up with a sculpture that would cheer up the old chap a bit.

 

Ingar Dragset

 

The memorial in Berlin is the official German memorial to the homosexual victims of the Nazi era. We are in a way appropriating the visual language of Eisenman’s Holocaust Memorial on the other side of the street. We also made a concrete slab, but in our concrete slab you can look through a window and you see a film of two men engaging in an eternal kiss. We selected the kiss because we wanted something that everyone can relate to - something beautiful - something you can relate to whether you’re straight or gay or of any kind of sexual orientation.

 

Damien Whitmore

 

You work in contemporary art museums, you work in shop windows, you work on the street as artists and curators and you now work in museums. They’re very, very different and we actually gave you a disused Victorian textiles gallery, how was that?

 

Ingar Dragset

 

The V&A very kindly let us walk through the museum and come back to the director and say what kind of spaces we were fascinated by and where we would like to work. So when we found the textile galleries we thought these are brilliant because they’re not yet renovated. They haven’t got the modern climatisation [controlled air conditioning] and all the things you need now for a modern, more contemporary exhibition space.

 

Michael Elmgreen

 

‘Tomorrow’ is almost like a film set for a not yet realised movie. It could be a Visconti movie or a Bergman movie. A domestic setting inhabited by a fictional character, we have made a whole script about this character and his life and the starting point was to create his home with all the objects and artefacts and artworks, furniture included in it and then from that we developed the script and from the script we elaborated on that setting.

 

Damien Whitmore

 

Could you tell us a bit more about the central character who plays this role in ‘Tomorrow’?

 

Ingar Dragset

 

In our minds the central character in the exhibition is an elderly architect, 75 years old about, he was a failed architect, he had a lot of great ideas, he was quite visionary but he never got to realise many of his projects. He was a part-time teacher, probably at Cambridge. We can see a lot of his models in the study that we install as part of his home. You do get a sense that this is a grand South Kensington apartment, all these things have trickled down through generations and now maybe the old architect living there might be the last person to sit on this from the family empire.

 

Michael Elmgreen

 

 If you really respect your audience you have to consider them as complex as yourself and they will be very diverse, they will come from many different backgrounds, so I don’t think we have an ideal spectator in our mind when we create our works. We try to make some visual statements; you can read the in different ways from different angles and get something out of them. Often it is that your audience create and elaborate on the artworks in a much more interesting way than you ever could do - they make it wilder, more romantic, sentimental or perverse than your intentions were to start with. 

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Elmgreen & Dragset’s V&A installation, Tomorrow, extends many of the themes that the artist duo have explored over the course of their career: the creation of personas; the precipice between public and private; and a distinctive dark humour. The V&A’s Damien Whitmore visited Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset at their extraordinary Berlin studio to discuss their work, past, present and, indeed, Tomorrow.

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