Elmgreen & Dragset: 2020

Elmgreen & Dragset often use the exhibition venue as an essential part of their work by transforming the gallery space into a completely different environment: “like a film you can walk into”. At EMMA they have responded to the museum’s béton brut architecture and transformed the space into a fictional car park. The exhibition, entitled 2020, incorporates real cars, road markings and a selection of Elmgreen & Dragset’s sculptures, both new and familiar, that together create new sets of narratives. The museum space has been turned into a surreal parking garage which invites the visitors to make their own stories and associations.

The car park concept addresses some of the central questions in Elmgreen & Dragset’s artistic practice, like privatisation, public space, marginalisation, queer culture and materialism. They challenge the conventions of how we see and experience art, also how we see EMMA and Tapiola. 2020 not only raises questions about the role of the car in modern society and what it means culturally but also about that part of public architecture, which can be described as ‘non-places’.

Underlying the narrative of the exhibition is a concern for humanity and the loss of a sense of community in a culture that emphasises the individual. Have we, in the year 2020, reached a juncture where we will finally have to take stock of the way we lead our lives?

Read more about the themes of the exhibition below.

”The lines on the street are the only truly global language”

Car parks are visually and structurally an intrinsic part of today’s urban architecture. They are a product of modern capitalism and a symbol of the way we try to organise and control mobility in our society. They can be considered places of transit where one rarely lingers, places that do not stand out. In popular culture, films and books, the car park has often served as a backdrop of clandestine activity and unlawful deeds. By turning EMMA’s space into a car park, Elmgreen & Dragset let us reflect upon how we as citizens have become used to navigating through these so-called non-places.

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  • The artist duo has often incorporated double geometry and paired objects in their artwork. In this sculpture, they have connected two identical Toyota Priuses with a thick, industrial pipe that passes through the front windows of both cars. The ubiquitous hybrid Toyota Prius here symbolises something between the polluted industrial past and a hopeful green urban future.

    Elmgreen & Dragset
    Die Ganze Familie, 2020
    Two Toyota Priuses, steel tubes
    Courtesy of the artists

    Elmgreen & Dragset: Die Ganze Familie, 2020 © Paula Virta/EMMA. Courtesy of the artists

  • Adaptations are a continuation of Elmgreen & Dragset’s investigation into the control mechanisms that are embedded in the architecture of public space. On the one hand, the artwork is an accurate remodelling of a conventional road sign; on the other hand, its mirror surface asks its viewer to look inwards to draw on their own views and values. The work adapts to its surroundings, becoming almost invisible, rather than serving a didactic function.

    Elmgreen & Dragset
    Adaptation, Fig. 16, 2020
    Stainless steel
    Courtesy of the artists

    Elmgreen & Dragset: Adaptation, Fig. 16, 2020 © Paula Virta/EMMA. Courtesy of the artists

  • Adaptations are a continuation of Elmgreen & Dragset’s investigation into the control mechanisms that are embedded in the architecture of public space. On the one hand, the artwork is an accurate remodelling of a conventional road sign; on the other hand, its mirror surface asks its viewer to look inwards to draw on their own views and values. The work adapts to its surroundings, becoming almost invisible, rather than serving a didactic function.

    Elmgreen & Dragset
    Adaptation, Fig. 9, 2020
    Stainless steel
    Courtesy of the artists

    Elmgreen & Dragset: Adaptation, Fig. 9, 2020 © Paula Virta/EMMA. Courtesy of the artists

  • Adaptations are a continuation of Elmgreen & Dragset’s investigation into the control mechanisms that are embedded in the architecture of public space. On the one hand, the artwork is an accurate remodelling of a conventional road sign; on the other hand, its mirror surface asks its viewer to look inwards to draw on their own views and values. The work adapts to its surroundings, becoming almost invisible, rather than serving a didactic function.

    Elmgreen & Dragset
    Adaptation, Fig. 19, 2020
    Stainless steel
    Courtesy of Nicolai Wallner Gallery

    Elmgreen & Dragset: Adaptation, Fig. 19, 2020 © Paula Virta/EMMA. Courtesy of Nicolai Wallner Gallery

”Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?”

The works under this thematic section deal with materialism and our desire and longing for wealth and fame, or at least for a better life. A cash machine, open 24/7 glows like a capitalist altar in the space. Further on, the whirling carousel sculpture, entitled Social Media, brings to attention our digital culture, which relentlessly seeks new spectacles that potentially could go viral. Ironically, the art world with all its curiosities can also play a part in generating spectacle.

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  • This new work by Elmgreen & Dragset comprises of a vintage Mercedes station wagon which is a modern classic in the world of cars. Here, the artists have placed two sleeping figures inside the vehicle with a variety of packed objects, seemingly artworks. The license plates are Russian. Who are these figures, why are they travelling? This work exemplifies the artists’ often enigmatic approach, which encourages the viewer to fill in the gaps and imagine what might have happened.

    Elmgreen & Dragset
    The Outsiders, 2020 
    Mercedes W123, male figures in silicone, clothing, packed artworks
    Courtesy of Pace Gallery, New York and König Galerie

    Elmgreen & Dragset: The Outsiders, 2020 © Paula Virta/EMMA. Courtesy of Pace Gallery, New York and König Galerie

  • This sculpture of a car seat is titled I must make amends, referencing the lyrics of Janis Joplin’s song Mercedes Benz: “Oh Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz, my friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends”. If you look carefully, the seat is in fact cast in bronze, which makes it like a stand-alone monument, or metaphor for the often unattainable dream of having a luxurious life, or a fine car at least.

    Elmgreen & Dragset
    I must make amends, Fig. 1, 2018
    Bronze, patina
    Courtesy of Massimo de Carlo, Milano | London | Hong Kong

    Elmgreen & Dragset: I must make amends, Fig. 1, 2018 © Paula Virta/EMMA. Courtesy of Massimo de Carlo, Milano | London | Hong Kong

  • The bundle is placed on the floor in front of an ersatz cash machine, appearing with its illuminated sign ‘24 Hour Banking’. Its title, Modern Moses, refers to the biblical story in which Bithiah, the daughter of the Pharaoh of Egypt, found a baby alone in the reeds beside the river Nile and named him Moses. In this display that brings the ancient theme up to this day, the artists invite the audience to question the systems that create poverty and desperation.

    Elmgreen & Dragset
    Modern Moses, 2006
    Carrycot, bedding, wax figure, baby clothes, stainless steel cash machine
    Courtesy of the artists

    Elmgreen & Dragset: Modern Moses, 2006 © Paula Virta/EMMA. Courtesy of the artists

  • This brand-new work recalls the form of a children’s roundabout. The spinning design creates an optical illusion evoking the geometric, kinetic abstraction of the 1960s psychedelic culture. Sitting on the edge of the whirling base is a sculpture of a corgi, the famous dog breed, popularised by the Queen of England. The title of the work refers to the all-embracing impact of social media and the images shared and spread that feed our endless need for spectacle.  

    Elmgreen & Dragset
    Social Media, 2020
    Brushed stainless steel, lacquer, motor, resin, and faux fur
    Saastamoinen Foundation Art Collection

    Elmgreen & Dragset: Social Media, 2020 © Paula Virta/EMMA. Saastamoinen Foundation Art Collection

  • This small sculpture is part of the artists’ series of realistic looking cooling boxes, cast in bronze. Realised in a variety of colours, each cooler has a title that refers to a fictional place and date, like in this example, we can imagine what happened on a beach picnic on a summer day. Like Elmgreen & Dragset’s recurring interest in swimming pools as a metaphor of leisure and freedom, this modest object also carries the symbolic meaning of travel, recreation and carelessness.

    Elmgreen & Dragset
    Marbella Beach, June 21st, 1989, 2015
    Bronze, paint
    Private collection

    Elmgreen & Dragset: Marbella Beach, June 21st, 1989, 2015 © Paula Virta/EMMA. Private Collection

  • The small, white rat is a recurrent motif in Elmgreen & Dragset’s oeuvre. The artists have staged it in various ways in different contexts, referring to the spectator as a voyeur, for example. Here the humanised-looking rat stands on its back feet under the jacked-up cabriolet that is missing a wheel. Does it know how precarious its position is? Does it, in its own way, understand the bigger picture? 

    Elmgreen & Dragset
    Trap, 2020
    Peugeot Cabriolet, taxidermy rat, car jack
    Courtesy of the artists

    Elmgreen & Dragset: Trap, 2020 © Paula Virta/EMMA. Courtesy of the artists

Masculinities

Elmgreen & Dragset challenge notions of masculinity in their works. The small boy, as a leitmotif in their sculptures, is often shown vulnerable, feeling wonder, fear, excitement or discomfort. This provides a variety of alternatives to traditional depictions of masculinity which often portray the male figure as heroic, dominant and emotionless. In Elmgreen & Dragset’s works the politics of sexuality is a major theme. They draw on queer experience to subvert institutions and structures that do not allow difference.

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  • Elmgreen & Dragset have shown a figure of a young boy in various contexts. Sometimes he sits on a scaffold, sometimes on a balcony, or on another perilous ledge. Here, brought to the parking garage’s context, the youngster sits on top of a Mini Cooper. He can be seen as an embodiment of the uncertainty behind the decisions, actions, and expectations that are part of growing up.

    Elmgreen & Dragset
    The Wait, 2013–2020
    Mini Cooper, epoxy resin figure, clothing, shoes
    Private Collection

    Elmgreen & Dragset: The Wait, 2013-2020 © Paula Virta/EMMA. Private Collection

  • The series of Marriage works by Elmgreen & Dragset address the complexities of relationships. The work Gay Marriage could be understood as a reference to the criminalisation of homosexuality. In many countries same-sex couples are still forced to meet in covert locations, such as public toilets. Here, the conjoined drainpipes represent both the intimacy and emotional union of marriage, as well as the various tensions it may prompt.

    Elmgreen & Dragset
    Gay Marriage, 2010
    Porcelain urinals, taps, stainless steeltubing
    Astrup Fearnley Museet, Oslo, Norway

    Elmgreen & Dragset: Gay Marriage, 2010 © Paula Virta/EMMA. Astrup Fearnley Museet, Oslo, Norway

  • This early sculptural work – two pairs of Levi’s jeans and two pairs of Calvin Klein underpants – symbolises Elmgreen & Dragset’s collaboration and visually represents them as a duo. The jeans are typical of a late 1990s dress code that crossed cultures, styles and interests. This is one of the first examples of the artists’ sculptural works in which the audience is left to imagine what could have taken place.

    Elmgreen & Dragset
    Powerless Structures, Fig. 19, 1998.
    Underwear, blue jeans
    Courtesy of the artists

    Elmgreen & Dragset: Powerless Structures, Fig. 19, 1998 © Paula Virta/EMMA. Courtesy of the artists

  • This work appears to be a real handrail, but on closer inspection the smooth chrome surface is actually coursing with veins, recalling the human circulatory system and its network of blood vessels. Relating to how bodies are steered through public spaces and how objects can and do assist the body in today’s world, this work addresses human vulnerabilities, and the notions of safety and impending danger.

    Elmgreen & Dragset
    Humanized Architecture, 2019
    Polished stainless steel
    Courtesy of the artists

    Elmgreen & Dragset: Humanized Architecture, 2019 © Paula Virta/EMMA. Courtesy of the artists

  • The sculpture resembles a classical statue or ancient ruin. Described by the artists as an ‘anti-heroic sculpture,’ it depicts the fallen figure of a man who was presumably once perceived as valiant and brave. The hand on his shoulder indicates the trace of a second person, now broken away, imbuing the work with an air of solitude and isolation. Who was his companion?

    Elmgreen & Dragset
    Some Stayed On While Others Left, 2018
    Epoxy resin, patina, lacquer, steel
    Courtesy of Victoria Miro, London /Venice

    Elmgreen & Dragset: Some Stayed On While Others Left, 2018 © Paula Virta/EMMA. Courtesy of Victoria Miro, London/Venice

  • This seemingly simple sculpture combines two readymades: a tractor tyre and a dirty boiler suit. These objects represent traditional notions of masculinity with connotations of sweat and muscle at the repair shop. The absent body questions the role of physical labour in a post-industrial reality. Like the title suggests, the work also references the artist Francis Bacon, perhaps his well-known painting of crucifixion, but with an ironic twist. The work plays with the macabre image of Bacon, and with the tradition on portraying masculinity.

    Elmgreen & Dragset
    After Francis Bacon, 2014
    Rubber, steel, boiler suit
    Courtesy of the artists

    Elmgreen & Dragset: After Francis Bacon, 2014 © Paula Virta/EMMA. Courtesy of the artists

Past Future

Here the garage has given way to a dystopian scene. The works in this final section speak about our times characterised by uncertainty, exclusion and inequality. The misanthropic works seem to imply that the bright future is far behind us – we have lost our faith in everlasting progress. The title Past Future refers also to a complex verb form: the past future tense.

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  • Here, a large industrial tube appears to penetrate the floor, as if extended into the museum’s inner structure. It even releases vapour, which strengthens the illusion of being an integral part of a technical system. Elmgreen & Dragset suggest that the steam seems to reveal a weakness in the foundations of the institution, a forewarning of its demise.

    Elmgreen & Dragset
    Overheated, 2019
    Stainless steel, steel, smoke, electronics
    Courtesy of Massimo de Carlo, Milano | London | Hong Kong

    Elmgreen & Dragset: Overheated, 2019 © Paula Virta/EMMA. Courtesy of Massimo de Carlo, Milano | London | Hong Kong

  • This work invites visitors to go through the gate, under the tattered sign reading Miracle, escorted by the penetrating stare of a vulture. The sharp-eyed, scavenging bird is a recurrent motif in Elmgreen & Dragset’s exhibitions, a metaphor for a critic. The torn chain link fence, the bags of sand – all signal a borderline, a place-of-no-return. The title of the work suggests we join the rite and move along to the next stage – metaphorically in life and physically in the exhibition

    Elmgreen & Dragset
    Rite of Passage, 2014
    Galvanised steel fence, glass fibre vulture
    Courtesy of the artists

    Elmgreen & Dragset: Rite of Passage, 2014 © Paula Virta/EMMA. Courtesy of the artists

  • In this installation the artists have collapsed an asphalt square and turned it into an urban version of land art. The massive, broken shards of asphalt stack up like a wreckage. The chunks of asphalt piled and scattered around the room can also be seen as a metaphor for broken dreams of unity and the lack of communal visions in a world of uncertainty and individualism.

    Elmgreen & Dragset
    Broken Square, 2018
    Asphalt, styrofoam, stainless steel
    Courtesy of Perrotin Gallery

    Elmgreen & Dragset: Broken Square, 2018 © Paula Virta/EMMA. Courtesy of Perrotin Gallery

  • This door is impossible to open. The artists often use familiar objects, such as a door, and change its common meaning by breaking down the item’s normal function so it becomes something new and inspires a new way of thinking. In fact, the door is part of Elmgreen & Dragset’s ongoing series titled Powerless Structures, in which they investigate how architecture can control human action, and how these conventional structures can be challenged.

    Elmgreen & Dragset
    Powerless Structures, Fig. 123, 2000
    MDF, wood, hinges, door handles and locks
    Courtesy of the artists

    Elmgreen & Dragset: Powerless Structures, Fig.123, 2000 © Paula Virta/EMMA. Courtesy of the artists

  • This work is like a final statement in the exhibition. It is a rotating advertising billboard which instead of flipping ads continuously tells the same blunt message, ’This space can’t be yours’. Empty billboards usually state the reverse ’This space can be yours!’, indicating an advertising space for rent. Here, Elmgreen & Dragset deny the original function and purpose of the object and hence pose a rhetorical question about the ownership of the space.

    Elmgreen & Dragset
    This Space Can’t Be Yours, 2006
    Billboard with rotating panels, aluminium frame, plot lettering
    Private Collection

    Elmgreen & Dragset: This Space Can’t Be Yours, 2006 © Paula Virta/EMMA. Private Collection