LONDON — At the 2009 Venice Biennale, Elmgreen & Dragset converted the Danish and Nordic Pavilions into the stylish home of a mysterious “Mr. B.” People were able to visit his place, sit on his chairs, read his books, have a look at the collection of homoerotic drawings on the wall. The installation left visitors puzzled, making them wonder and ask questions about the life of the owner — whose fake corpse, just for the record, was floating face down in the swimming pool outside.
This fall, the artist duo did it again, with “Tomorrow” at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The museum commissioned them to create a site-specific installation in the former Textile Galleries. Elmgreen & Dragset transformed the space into a completely refurbished apartment belonging to a fictional character, using a combination of pieces from the V&A collection. This time, the obscure owner is an old man with failed ambitions. Dragset described him as:
an elderly architect, 75 years old, a failed architect. He had a lot of great ideas — he was quite visionary but he never got to realize any of his projects. He was a part-time teacher, probably at Cambridge. Visitors can see a lot of his models in the study that we install as part of his home. You do get a sense that this is a grand South Kensington apartment; all these things have trickled down through generations, and now maybe the old architect living there might be the last person to sit on this from the family empire.
Inspired by the setting, the artists wrote a script for their disillusioned, Bergman-style character. You can see signs of him throughout the luxurious flat: his spectacles, his unmade bed, an ashtray with some cigarette butts. He seems to be in the shower — or so we’re encouraged to think, as we hear the water jets from behind a closed door — while visitors look around. You can even peek into drawers and cupboards, searching for clues. Not surprisingly, he takes antidepressants.
The apartment is quite striking, especially considering its location. The period rooms of the Victoria and Albert Museum, set with staged environments that aim for didacticism, make an interesting contrast with the rooms of “Tomorrow,” where visitors can take greater liberties in their behavior, actively interacting with some of the objects. Moreover, the boundaries between the installation and the museum aren’t really clear. As a result, Elmgreen & Dragset’s installation evokes a feeling that’s typical of their works — puzzlement, disorienting visitors by offering almost endless interpretative choices.
Elmgreen & Dragset’s “Tomorrow” is on view at the Victoria and Albert Museum (Cromwell Road, London) through January 2.
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