Elmgreen & Dragset: Tomorrow
By Martin Søberg
You’re visiting a museum. You turn a corner. And all of a sudden you seem to have stumbled into somebody’s home. With plenty of tongue-in-cheek attitude, Elmgreen & Dragset’s installation Tomorrow has transformed the V&A’s former textile galleries into an uncanny installation: the bourgeois apartment of a fictitious disillusioned architect.
Scandinavian artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset have a talent for creating disturbing objects and site-specific installations that question habitual thinking and perception. In the grand galleries of the V&A they seem to make a hint at certain surreal undertones in British culture, particular literature, conveyed by unexpected spatial connections. Think of the hall of locked doors at the bottom of a rabbit hole in “The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland” or the entrance to Narnia through an old wardrobe. Not to mention Harry Potter departing from Platform 9¾ at London’s Kings Cross Station.
The protagonist of Elmgreen & Dragset’s set-like installation is one Norman Swann, an aging architect, former part-time lecturer at Cambridge University, now bankrupt and left with only fragments of the former glory of his stately apartment and its collection of family heirlooms. Furniture and objects have been selected by the artists from the V&A’s immense collection of design and objets d’art, combined with pieces found in antique shops and at flea markets. Artworks by Elmgreen & Dragset complement the decor.
Elmgreen & Dragset point to the similarities between museum and domestic architecture and to the fact that museums as such have developed historically from a tradition of collectors opening their homes to visitors. At the V&A museum guests are invited to literally feel at home, to sit in the furniture and browse through the books and magazines left on the side tables.
Elmgreen & Dragset have recurrently explored the relationship between art and its architectural surroundings. They have been questioning “the white cube” – the quintessential modern gallery space – at several occasions, for instance in their installation “A Room Defined by its Accessibility” at the National Gallery of Denmark (2001). And explored links between art and consumption in their famous copy of a Prada shop erected along a desert highway in Marfa, Texas (2005).
“Tomorrow” is conceptually somewhat similar to their installation “The Collectors” at the Venice Biennale in 2009, which included the transformation of Norwegian architect Sverre Fehn’s iconic Nordic Pavilion into what appeared to be the Mid-Century Modern home of a wealthy art collector. “Tomorrow” applies some of the same means of appropriation, yet with more attention to the connections between collecting, displaying, homemaking, and the constitution of self-identify. “Tomorrow” addresses how we express ourselves through but may risk getting trapped by architecture and design.