OU blog

Personal Blogs

New photo

Interior installation and Queer Interiors: Elmgreen & Dragset Exercise 3.2 A844

Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Steve Bamlett, Sunday, 3 Feb 2019, 17:02

Interior installation and Queer Interiors: Exercise 3.2 A844: Elmgreen & Dragset 

To illuminate their position, view this interview with the artists about the installation (from 4.55 minutes to 7.40 minutes). What was the artists’ starting point?

The text of the interview with Elmgreen and Dragset is below (downloadable from V&A link). I can’t say how happy this way of opening this Section of the Course made me. But this was so because I ignored the instruction to listen to only 2-3 minutes of the 10 minute interview. So first my caveat on the pedagogy here:


There is a notion of academic focus that means a principle of relevance is applied to search for research data and sources, that occurs too in the selection and editing of our reading but I think it often comes too soon to encourage lateral and creative thought. This is probably totally necessary but it means that principles of economy often interfere with the interpretation of these data in what I see as damaging ways. Below you see that very valuable reflections are seen, in a preliminary search to be cut out of our understanding of the work of these artists. I’ve made sections in red. This includes:

1.     their ideas of what it means to shape ‘installations’ including ones in practical use that are recognised as ‘interiors’ but guided by everyday concepts of work and home life and their interactions;

2.     The role of conceptual art in the context of a framework dominated by Christian icons and narratives;

3.     (at end) the role of diversity in planning for the exhibition of art to a public (more strictly speaking to diverse ‘publics).

4.     The main one for me: the role of queer artists in the making and performance of art, including the queering of the normative. One example might be their recent (2018) installation at Whitechapel Gallery: here reviewed by Adrian Searle in obvious gay male solidarity.

 The very thought of this has obviously overexcited a couple of young men, who have abandoned their trousers and Calvin Klein briefs by the door to the gallery offices, and gone off to get up to something or the other in a quiet corner. Maybe they are in the changing rooms by the pool. Galleries, like public swimming pools, are good for a bit of cruising. I found myself giving one of the security guards a bit of a glad eye. Talk about relational aesthetics. Fancy a dip?

Searle, A. ‘Elmgreen & Dragset review – a deep dive into sadness, humour and sex’ in The Guardian Wed 26 Sep 2018 14.46 BSTLast modified on Wed 26 Sep 2018 16.58 BST Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/sep/26/elmgreen-dragset-review-a-deep-dive-into-sadness-humour-and-sex (Accessed 24/01/19)

But delighted I was. Here is a summary why: The first target of art-history courses these days is a caveat against crude biographical approaches. Although probably worth addressing, this is often taken as a means of seeing a null relationship between extended concepts of life (absorbed often into ‘social history, or, if you’re lucky, psychosocial history) and art. Like the Vorticists, I think this must be restored.

 This can mean being afraid to address issues of sexual orientation which Elmgreen and Dragset address directly, whether in a Holocaust Memorial, a poolside scenario or a the narrative of a man’s growth from boy to ‘failed’ man (as in Tomorrow 2013). The latter is telling. We know this is art ‘about’ sexual ‘orientation/development’, not because it is explicitly about a gay male (it may or may not be) but because it is the representation of a concept – that of the ‘interior’ that is ‘queered’: it cannot be easily legible from frameworks of understanding that are normative. Hence it disrupts expectations at nearly all points, even when it represents the norms of ‘home’, retrospective memory, the comfort of home, the role of work (especially work focused on designing other people’s interiors) and ‘family’ (whatever we take that to mean- biological families or ‘families-by-choice’, which the radical gay movement once lauded). We see a lonely boy in a fireplace dominated by sentimental self-representation that denies his development or squashes it with phallic imagery in lieu of life like a cigar (even though, ‘a cigar is sometimes just a cigar’ it means something in terms of group-gendering identity and fixing it in too solid a representation).

This choice of section-opening I love because it in part raises how I might approach interiors in the thought, art and life of Duncan Grant. I might concentrate on Charleston but interiors can never focus on one artist – they are always about collective lives, work and representations. This doesn’t just mean we ’include’ Vanessa Bell too in a naively inclusive paradigm but look at the meanings sustained by a home wherein inputs were trans-historical and trans-personal, and, of course, transsexual and ranged between objects and decoration of uncertain boundaries). Charleston is a queer home I would hypothesise in many ways – less obvious and conscious than those in Elmgreen & Dragset but no less integral to the way we conceptualise an ‘interior’, starting with its definition (no mean starting task).#

 So here goes!


 V&A 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 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?

_________________ Selection starts here

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.

End of selection ______________________


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.

Permalink Add your comment
Share post