Elmgreen & Dragset, an aesthetics of longing and desires.

Elmgreen & Dragset, Watching, 2017. Bronze, black patina, and wax. 126 x 39 1/2 x 33 1/2 inches. Installation view, The Contemporary Austin – Laguna Gloria, Austin, Texas, 2018. Artwork © Elmgreen & Dragset. Collection of Lora Reynolds and Quincy Lee, Austin.

Niet makkelijk om over dit duo, wereldwijd gekend als Elmgreen & Dragset, sluitende bepalingen of alles omvattende beschrijvingen over hun werk te geven.
Hun werk intrigeert bovenmate. Ik zocht uit diverse bronnen aanwijzers en vragenstellers en laat ze met de nodige prenten graag op u los, in de hoop de lezer nieuwsgierig te maken en aan te zetten zelf in te schepen en/of mee te spelen, wenkbrauwen te fronsen, vertedering en vewondering de vrije loop te laten bij hun diverse werken en exploten.

Michael Elmgreen (1961) from Danmark & Ingar Dragset(1969) from Norway work since 1997 at the crossroads of art and architecture, performance and installation. Preoccupied with objects and their settings, along with the discourse that can arise when those objects are radically recontextualized,

Elmgreen & Dragset push against the normal modes for the display of art. Whether through sculptures or total environments, their work draws attention to the institutions that host them and their attendant politics. Performativity and participation are fraught in their work, which invites and denies participation in equal measure—pools are emptied, diving boards are oriented vertically, bars are inaccessible, sinks dysfunctional. Quotidian objects are stripped of their utility and regarded as sculptural phenomena, taking on minimalist aesthetics that challenge the sterilizing force of the white cube. In the same way, Elmgreen & Dragset’s outdoor public sculptures recontextualize their surroundings, as seen in well-known projects like Van Gogh’s Ear at Rockefeller Plaza in New York or Prada Marfa, located along Highway 90 in the middle of the Texan desert.  (Perrotin)

Elmgreen & Dragset, Prada Marfa, 2005, Adobe bricks, plaster, aluminium frames, glass, panes, MDF, paint, carpet, canvas, Prada shoes and bags, 480 x 760 x 470 cm, courtesy Art Production Fund, New York; Ballroom Marfa, Marfa; the artists
'Their installations often encourage interaction and participation: they invite you or force you to need something…. But once this mechanism has been set in motion, Michael and Ingar——with a kinkiness that has something nasty about it—never really let you get what you want. In their work you are often left yearning for something that is constantly out of reach or kept at a distance: theirs is not an aesthetics of relations—it is an aesthetics of longings and desires.’
(Curator Massimilliano Gioni)
Elmgreen & Dragset
Modern Moses, 2006
'We try to follow a rule that says ‘No compromises!’ meaning that if one of us totally disagrees there is no point in pursuing that particular idea. There are always new challenges, so we don’t dwell on missed opportunities. We have a lot of silly ideas and only ten per cent of them end up being executed as actual art works.
It arose from (mis)reading Foucault, who through his writing inspired us to imagine even the invisible and ephemeral as something tangible and structural, something that could easily be played out and displayed in a number of different ways. Nothing we’ve ever done is a direct reflection on Foucault, but rather a fleeting sensation of a world view in flux captured and expressed as a momentary open statement.'
‘One day’ 2015

Michael Elmgreen:

I don’t want to sound anti-intellectual or anti-educational, but if you watch children, they have an eagerness to question everything, and they are curious. They have the courage to ask, “Why is it like that?” Somehow the educational system hasn’t managed to cut it off completely. It is very sad that many adults stop asking these kinds of questions, because they are very important.

The Future, 2013, Materials:Powder coated aluminium, epoxy resin life size boy figure, clothing, shoes Elmgreen Dragset

We read books and theory, and, of course, we are interested in the academic context of our work, but that can also be very standardizing. An academic perception in any field can become routine. Douglas Crimp was a big inspiration for us because when he was writing On the Museum’s Ruins, he spoke about how you get it completely wrong that Richard Serra is a macho artist because he works with big steel plates. Macho is not defined by material—we would be so lucky if we were seen as macho for melting down steel. It is all about your attitude and your approach to whatever material you have, which led us to do larger scale installations such as the swimming pool.

Death of a Collector Venice 2009

One of the most successful orchestrations of their own work (and that of others) took place during the Venice Biennale in 2009, where they fitted out the neighbouring Norwegian and Danish pavilions as two homes for households with an interest in the arts. The Norwegian pavilion was designed as a home for a bachelor with highly individual artistic tastes, while the Danish pavilion was conceived as housing a dysfunctional family with a rebellious teenage daughter. The work (The Collectors, 2009) appealed to the public’s voyeuristic instincts and created a fantasy-nurturing narrative as the framework for their own work and that of around twenty other invited artists and designers.

One of the things we wanted to stress with our exhibition is that collecting is not only about markets and auctions and investment and who is hot and who is not. Lots of people collect for other reasons—their own beliefs, political views, sexual identity, or because they have a passion for a certain artistic approach. Some people collect because it’s a tradition in their family or because they have a neurotic need for order in their life or out of vanity or to give back something to society. We find it interesting, this belief that objects brought together can constitute an identity.

‘table for bergman’ by elmgreen and dragset, 2009 wood, paint, perspex, chairs, glassware, cutlery, hand-painted porcelain image © designboom

Vanuit dit project komen er later na Tomorrow (Victoria and Albert Museum, London 2013) mooie totaal-sets zoals de tentoonstelling ‘Die Zugezogenen’ (The Newcomers) in Krefeld, Duitsland 2017.

Elmgreen & Dragset will combine their own sculptural work with ready-made furniture and artefacts in order to create a domestic setting. Some items will already have been unpacked and installed, while others will remain semi-wrapped or in boxes. Presenting the family’s move as a symbol of a changing Europe, the exhibition will reflect upon the visions of Modernist architecture in light of today’s reality, and will consider how many of these ideals now seem distant from our current, global, geopolitical situation.

Ook hier zien we personnages die in verschillende 'narratives' terugkeren:  de meid, het jongetje, deze keer in schooluniform, met de veelzeggende titel: 'High expectations' 
Elmgreen & Dragset, High Expectations (detail), 2011. Fibreglass resin, polyurethane resin, acrylic, wood, acrylic paint, oil paint, hair. Olbricht Collection. Courtesy of Studio Elmgreen & Dragset. © the artists and VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017
Dragset: You try to create a platform for experience, but you don’t calculate certain reactions because people are so fucking complex—you can’t really predict what will happen when you place your work somewhere. I find it very arrogant if you calculate a fixed reaction, and works that rely on very specific mechanisms are often quite unfortunate. A work of art needs to have a degree of openness so that people can have the possibility of having a certain experience, but also the possibility of having the complete opposite experience as well.

And there is a narrative, of course, embedded in our works, but the installations are also there physically because they say something that is hard to convey in just your normal language. Otherwise, we could just write a book. And if it would just be referential, or if it would just be storytelling in a way that could be transferred into a written language, then it wouldn’t make sense to create it as a physical setting. So, I think that’s where poetry comes in to play—you want to create a meaning that is in between the lines, in between your ideas, in between the materials, in between all these things that the work consists of. Then all that together creates something that is new.
Miami, Bent Pool 2019

This sculpture of a boy and rocking horse by Berlin artists Elmgreen and Dragset will be the next installation on top of the Fourth Plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square.In this portrayal of a boy astride his rocking horse, a child has been elevated to the status of a historical hero, though there is not yet a history to commemorate – only a future to hope for. Elmgreen & Dragset’s work proposes a paraphrase of a traditional war monument beyond a dualistic worldview predicated on either victory or defeat. Instead of acknowledging the heroism of the powerful, Powerless Structures, He celebrates the heroism of growing up. It is a visual statement celebrating expectation and change rather than glorifying the past.

The rocking horse, a toy originally dating from the 17th Century, and later popularised in Britain, is here depicted in a stylized version merging a Victorian model with a contemporary mass-produced design.

“The Fourth Plinth, Powerless Structures,” at Trafalgar Square London (United Kingdom), 2012

Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset said:

“We received the big news about having been selected for the next Fourth Plinth commission per cell phone – still jet-lagged after a long inter-continental flight – and with our hands full of shopping bags from the local supermarket. On a cold and rainy London afternoon, it took a couple of minutes for the news to sink in. Our proposal is somehow an appraisal of the “non-heroic“, so this scene actually felt rather appropriate for the situation. Though Trafalgar Square is such a prominent location and our sculpture probably will be seen by thousands of people, it is a comfort to know that it will be there only temporarily. That’s the strength and true beauty of the Fourth Plinth commissions – they are there just long enough to evoke debate, to be treasured or disliked – and then they will be exchanged with a new project, which in turn will be discussed. Such dynamics are part of keeping a city alive.”

They were warned by Boris Johnson not to label it an “anti-war memorial”. “And you’re just looking at him and thinking, ‘How naive can you be?’,” says Elmgreen, eyes widening. “‘When you’re out of the door we do exactly what we want!’”
“In these times when there’s so much populist politics all around us, art needs to do a better job of not being in an ivory tower,” says Elmgreen. “Not being too hermetic. Not being behind closed doors.” (The Guardian)

Elmgreen explains, “The debate around toxic masculinity is still relevant. Our small boy looking up in admiration at a rifle in a glass cabinet speaks about gun violence as a male problem. The boy on the rocking horse, which we exhibited on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square among historic war heroes, was the same thing. It has been really important for us to show different kinds of vulnerable masculinities in childhood, when there’s still hope.”

Ook in Mechelen te zien. De stad kocht in 2018 een beeld voor zo’n 190.000 euro en wilde er de kinderjaren van keizer Karel mee illustreren. Het beeld staat schuin tegenover het paleis van Margareta van Oostenrijk- het Hof van Savoye.

Han (=He in Danish) ‘han’ was comissioned by the city of elsinore and the danish national arts council

‘Han’ is a public sculpture commissioned by the city of Elsingore. the title means ‘He’ in danish – but it is actually also the name of Michael’s boyfriend back in London. The work is situated in front of the castle Krongborg which is the very location of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The sculpture is so to say a contemporary and male paraphrase of the Danish national icon the Little Mermaid. It depicts a young man posing on a rock – he sits in the same way as the famous little mermaid does and the stone has the exact shape of the stone used for his ‘older sister’. but the entire sculpture, both figure and stone, is cast in stainless steel. Further more a hydraulic mechanism can shut the eyes of the sculpture for a split second every 30 minutes.

Recht tegenover het kasteel van Kronborg, Unesco heritage

En toen begon het gedoe omtrent het beeld: “We got the most incredible letters to local newspapers. ‘First we had the Swedes coming over drunk, and now we’re being invaded by gay people!’’ Residents compared the sculpture’s arrival to the Swedish tourists who come to Denmark for cheaper liquor, and they saw this work as reinforcing their secondary status to Copenhagen. Eventually the town came around to appreciating the sculpture (and the technical expertise of its creation), but only after Elmgreen & Dragset responded to these claims by reminding them that a statue of a single figure “can’t be gay, only people can be gay.” This witty retort was a manifestation of their deeper strategy of showing how all structures and rhetorics of power (here the monument) are also sites of contestation and debate. Just like the white walls of the Cruising Pavilion, there is nothing inherently gay about the sculpture of a male-identified figure. It is all in the use and the meanings one brings to these works. (Queer Figurations in the Sculpture of Elmgreen & Dragset, David J. Getsy, opstel uit het boek Elmgreen & Dragset, ‘Sculptures’ hieronder nog geciteerd.

A different direction, however, was taken with Elmgreen & Dragset’s most important monument, the 2008 Memorial to the Homosexuals Persecuted under the National Socialist Regime. While most all of their other work has been invested in the proliferation of possible identifications and alternate meanings, with this work they set themselves in opposition to such variability. Their monument is about refusing such misappropriation, and they enacted this refusal on visual terms. The weight of the history they addressed demanded this approach, and it was articulated in specific response to another nearby memorial that also dealt with the history of Nazi persecution.

Elmgreen & Dragset’s Memorial takes the form of a rectangular block about twelve feet tall in the Tiergarten in Berlin. It does not sit on the ground perpendicularly but rather leans to one side.

Elmgreen & Dragset’s Memorial to the Homosexuals Persecuted under the National Socialist Regime was intended to address this difficult history and its invisibility in some accounts. Their monument’s leaning form is a “queer” version of one of Eisenman’s stelae, singular and alone at the edge of the Tiergarten (a location that has been a cruising site in Berlin’s past). Cut into this massive concrete block is a small aperture within which a video can be seen playing. The original video showed two men kissing, but it is now changed out at regular intervals (and commissioned from different artists). The initial video was shot at the site of the memorial itself so that viewers could compare and contrast their experience at looking at this moment in relation to the surrounding landscape. The screen is only big enough for one person to look comfortably, and view-ers have to peer inside one by one. The visual experience of the interior is limited to an audience of one (or, with effort, two). This sets up a visual dynamic between the public exterior and the private interior which we must pry inside to see. In this way, the Memorial complicates the conventionally public address of the monument genre through the introduction of a representation of intimacy and a restricted encounter with it. (ibidem)

Short Story

Elmgreen: For us, it was very important with the memorial to show an intimate scene between two gay lovers because there’s been a lot of improvement in lawmaking for equal rights around the world, but it still doesn’t really change the homophobia that you still see when people are confronted by a passionate scene between two guys in public. You’ll still have a lot of bad reactions to that today. So, the idea was to show that the problem is not over by just governmental decisions—the problem is also: are you able to face two guys kissing without it upsetting you? Therefore we made the window very small so it would only be maximum two persons looking at it at one time, or it would just be you and the men in the film.

The shape of the memorial was of course referring to Peter Eisenman’s Holocaust Memorial, because at first there had been discussions about making one memorial for all the different victim groups all together, but it turned out in a very disgraceful manner that not all of the victim groups wanted to be in the same memorial. So, we tried to use architecture to overcome that hostility the victim groups had toward each other. So, these were the main considerations when we were doing that. But it’s a special situation, doing a memorial that somehow has to function as a representation for a whole group of people. It’s almost impossible. (artspace)

Elmgreen & Dragset’s Gay Marriage. Photograph: Matthias Kolb/courtesy of the artist and Whitechapel Gallery

Accompanying a fall 2019 exhibition at Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, Elmgreen & Dragset: Sculptures—the first-ever dedicated study of the duo’s sculptures—covers their production in this field from the mid-1990s through the present day. Organized according to the aesthetics and conceptual working methods that the artists have employed throughout their career, it includes extensive photographic documentation of 112 of their works and five essays approaching their practice from both art-historical and thematic perspectives.