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 turning it into drinkable water, ha ha. There are not many industrial buildings from that period (1924) 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, where the transitions between your private personal life and your public image become 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, changes in society.
Michael Elmgreen: The kind of art we do has several formats, our works have different aesthetics. We are not really bound to certain materials or certain formal languages.
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 were 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 to show something that everyone can relate to - something emotional - something you can relate to whether you’re straight or gay, no matter 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 tell 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 were absolutely brilliant because they were not yet renovated. They hadn’t got refurbished with modern climatization [controlled air conditioning] and all the equipment you need now for a contemporary exhibition space.
Michael Elmgreen: ‘Tomorrow’ is almost like a film set for a not yet realised movie. It could be a Visconti or a Bergman movie. A domestic setting inhabited by a fictional character, about whom we have made a whole script . Our starting point was creating his home with all the objects and artefacts and artworks, furniture included and then from that we developed the script. Later on in the process we elaborated on the setting inspired by the script. It was a rather dynamic process.
Damien Whitmore: Could you tell us a bit more about the central character who plays this role in ‘Tomorrow’?
Ingar Dragset: The central character in the exhibition is an elderly architect, 75 years old, a failed architect. He had a lot of great ideas, he was quite visionary but he never got to realise any of his projects. He was a part-time teacher, probably at Cambridge. Visitors 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 respect your audience you have to consider them as complex as yourself. They are diverse, they come from many different backgrounds, so I don’t think we have such as an ideal spectator in mind when we create our works. We try to make visual statements, that are open, and that you can interpret in various ways and get something out of them. Often your audience will create and elaborate on the artworks in a much more interesting way than you ever could do yourself - they make it wilder, more romantic, sentimental or perverse than your intentions were to start with.
EXHIBITION: Enter the world of Norman Swann, elderly architect and proprietor of an elaborate apartment in South Kensington. As Norman struggles to deal with the burden of his cultural heritage, the arrival of his unscrupulous former student, now a famous architect to the stars, threatens to destabilise his fragile existence.
26 October 2013 - 19 January 2014. Masterpieces of Chinese Painting 700 - 1900 brings together the finest examples of Chinese painting from the beginning of the 8th to the end of the 19th century, from small-scale intimate works by monks and literati through to scroll paintings over 14 metres long, many of which have never before been seen in the UK.