Open now until 13 January 2019, London’s Whitechapel Gallery presents the first major UK exhibition of artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset. Commissioned especially for the gallery, the centrepiece of their immersive new installation sees the transformation of the entire ground floor into a derelict swimming pool, named The Whitechapel Pool.
In ongoing artistic collaboration since 1995, Michael Elmgreen (b. 1961, Denmark) and Ingar Dragset (b. 1969, Norway) produce beguiling spatial works that explore social politics and power structures embedded in the everyday designs. Their uncanny installations convert institutional spaces into metaphors for individual desires, and collective identities often with subversive wit and tongue-in-cheek melancholy.
This exhibition, titled This Is How We Bite Our Tongue presents a survey of their figurative sculptures with this extraordinary new large-scale installation that meditates on the fate of civic space, relating to the gentrification of London’s East End and a loss of public faith in an era of austerity. The duo described it as a response to the “intense gentrification” that has occurred in East London. “Bars where artists used to meet closed, artists’ studios were turned into luxury loft apartments. At the same time poorer boroughs experienced the effect of austerity politics,” their statement explains, “our derelict swimming pool relates to this metamorphosis of local communities. It is also a sentimental image of painful transitions in general – the shift of values – and how it can be difficult as a human being and as a citizen to adjust to such challenges.” The pool comes with an invented backstory, discussing its construction in 1901 and role in David Hockney’s career before it was sold to developers in 2016.
One gallery is dedicated to Self Portraits where monumental labels carved in marble or painted on canvas pay tribute to works of art from the likes of Louise Bourgeois, 19th-century Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershøi, to Mark Morrisroe, accompanied by a desk complete with a diary and a bottle of whiskey in The Bottle and the Book (2015) which invites visitors to break gallery rules by sitting on the artwork and taking a drink. Other works on display will include Modern Moses (2006), an installation consisting of a figure of a newborn baby in a carry cot, abandoned in front of a cash machine; One Day (2015), in which a sculpture of a young boy gazes at a rifle in a display case.
This Is How We Bite Our Tongue is open now until 13 January 2019 at Whitechapel Gallery, London.