November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
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Review: Elmgreen-Dragset in Rotterdam

Michael Elmgreen/Ingar Dragset:

The One & The Many, Rotterdam

Art Review by Miklós Horváth

After enchanting audiences and critics with the sumptuous exhibition Infernopolis last year, the curators of the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen have decided to host another spectacular installation, The One & The Many in the Rotterdam’s Submarine Wharf. The exhibition is now open to the public and can be visited until 25th September 2011.

Submarine Wharf can be reached by a 15-minute boat trip from busy Willemskade to a desolate harbour without shops or crowds. You are alone with those you came with on the boat from Willemskade. The experience a visitor may discover is similar to how Mr. Lockwood felt upon his arrival at Thrushcross Grange, described by Emily Brontë in Wuthering Heights. Far from the stir of society, Lockwood felt the desolation and considered his new living area a misanthrope’s heaven.  Though he intended to spend some splendid days in the grange and wanted to enjoy its treasures, most of the time Lockwood was disturbed by those around him.

Visiting the exhibition alone can give visitors an experienc similar to Lockwood’s. Being removed from society for a short time, visitors are encouraged to reconsider their desires – their needs and their desires. This exhibition is a psychological experience, definitely for those who like taking risks. For those who choose to participate in this enticing journey, it will broaden the understanding of how the mind works.

Visitors who come alone to the exhibition often will come across completely unexpected  situations. They might be provoked by wandering performers, such as a screaming young mother, young men selling themselves on the street, or an auto mechanic busy working on a luxury limousine. Due to these interruptions, single visitors may find it difficult to completely enjoy the treasures of the wharf. But, as they are advised beforehand, a visitor to this exhibit never simply observes, but becomes an object in it, as well.

For those who visit with a relative or a friend, the art project no longer offers a fearful experience on dark streets. These visitors will not be followed by performers, they do not have to consider what to do and how to act in an unexpected situation, and can enjoy their walk in a secure place of meditation.

The Exhibition Hall is reached through a tunnel, which Elmgreen suggests is a kind of vacuum cleaner hose. Although this-suctioning-you-in feeling is pronounced, you always have a choice to turn back. A reassuring poster on the tunnel wall states, “There is a light at the end of the tunnel, a reference to the Promised Land offered by God to his chosen people after their tribulations. Elmgreen and Dragset deconstruct and discredit the message of God as it becomes a soap-opera-like sentence, an advertising of a new reality show instead of a real message. Therefore, the collaborative duo claims, there is no light at the end of the tunnel. They intend to show that many people could not experience the light in their life and could not turn back when they felt a certain danger.

During the Nazi regime some people did not have a choice to avoid an unwanted situation. The vacuum cleaner (tunnel) and the fake promise therefore can be read as the symbols of the oppressive powers which guide people to their final destination. These symbols recall a circumstance when certain people did not have a choice to turn back and their private lives were under threat.

The struggle between one’s private and public lives is one of the main issues of this exhibition. Visitors  can peep through the windows of a housing block, get access to the toilet, and look into a limousine. Single visitors soon realize they are part of the exhibition, as they are monitored by the performers, as mentioned above. Private life can become a public affair as young men solicit on the street with discourses of sexual intimacy.

In her review of the exhibition, Nicolette Gast says The One & The Many is the third in a trilogy, a bridge between the two first parts: The Welfare Show, and The Collectors, which were shown at various venues in London and Venice. The Rotterdam exhibition is set in the social milieu of the middle class, and addresses how we are searching for new  identities in a world of constant transition.

For further information about the exhibition, visit the Boijmans official website.


About the author:

Miklós Horváth  is an undergraduate student at Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary, and Leiden University,  The Netherlands, where he received an Erasmus Scholarship to study.