Elmgreen & Dragset create a basement above Hong Kong
Latest subverted space is a boiler room gracing a third floor gallery in the Pedder building
The Scandinavian art duo, Elmgreen & Dragset, aren’t fans of the white-cube style gallery. “We found the physical structures themselves to be incredibly conformist, limiting and claustrophobic,” says Ingar Dragset in the interview section of our new Contemporary Artist Series book on them. “We wanted to see how we could break this frame.”
In 1997, for their performance 12 Hours of White Paint, they attacked the walls of a gallery with rollers and paint pots. Their 2001 piece, Taking Place, featured a demolition gang knocking down some of the inner walls of the Kunsthalle Zurich; and that same year for their work Traces of a Never Existing History / Powerless Structures, Fig. 222, they created a partially buried white, contemporary art gallery at the Istanbul Biennial.
Of course, they still exhibit their works in traditional white boxes, but, over the years they’ve managed to change these too. Their 2009 work, The Collectors, turned the Danish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale into the former residence of the wealthy ‘A.Family’, riven by divorce, with a ‘For Sale’ sign outside.
For their 2013 show, Tomorrow, at the Victoria & Albert Museum, they mocked up the apartment of Norman Swann, “a retired architect – surname pulled from Proust – who had, pointedly specialized in utopian designs and never built anything.
And for their 2018 exhibition at London’s Whitechapel Gallery, This is How We Bite Our Tongue, the display space became a disused, drained swimming pool.
Now, for a show at MDC Massimo De Carlo in Hong Kong, opening 25 March, the artists are putting a steamy basement on show. The exhibition, entitled Overheated, “transforms Massimo De Carlo’s third-floor gallery in Hong Kong into a different setting: an abandoned, underground boiler room,” according to the gallery. Industrial tubes of various sizes and colours will crisscross throughout the space, redirecting visitors’ movements into new patterns as each attendee is forced to step over, bend under, or walk around the large tubes in order to navigate the site.
Massimo De Carlo says this new show will make “visitors aware of their bodily presence in relation to the architecture.” Yet the simple act of messing with a gallery’s interior also, according to the artists, gives us a sense of hope.
“I think you need to be naively optimistic in order to make art,” says Michael Elmgreen in our new book. “Why would you make it if you didn’t believe it would be worth it, no matter how critical you are? If you didn’t have a sense of hope, possibility of change. It’s so important to show that you can break the rules, even on a small scale, especially in societies that have become more and more regulated. If you don’t keep that flame alight, what is there, in the end?”
To see some of these subverted spaces, and to get a better grip on these artists’ life, work and outlook, order a copy of our Elmgreen & Dragset book here.