We chat to gay artists Elm­green and Dragset

Pride Life Magazine - - CONTENTS -

Fa­mous for the golden boy on a rock­ing horse on Trafal­gar Square’s fourth plinth, for build­ing a fully stocked Prada store in the mid­dle of the desert, and for hav­ing a car and car­a­van burst­ing out of the floor of Mi­lan’s shop­ping dis­trict, Elm­green and Dragset are also the artists be­hind the touch­ing memo­rial to the gay men killed by the Nazis in Berlin’s Tier­garten.

Still to­gether pro­fes­sion­ally and in terms of friend­ship, they are among the most im­por­tant gay artists in the world and here they talk to Si­mon Gage about their work, their re­la­tion­ship and the pol­i­tics be­hind both.

On To­mor­row at the V&A Elm­green: Nor­mally when you go to the V&A all ob­jects and art­works are cat­e­gorised and or­dered and have small la­bels and they’re all on pedestals or in glass vit­rines. We have put them in a homey do­mes­tic sit­u­a­tion where vis­i­tors are al­lowed to sit on the so­fas, read the books and go through some of the pri­vate be­long­ings, un­paid bills, photo al­bums, post­cards from ex-lovers.

We have cre­ated a fic­tional character’s home. He is Mr Nor­man Swan, an old not-so-- suc­cess­ful gay ar­chi­tect who lived his en­tire life in his fam­ily home then went bank­rupt and had to move out, sell­ing to a for­mer stu­dent, a suc­cess­ful in­te­rior de­signer for celebri­ties. It’s a re­ally tragic story about be­ing gay, com­ing of age and not hav­ing lived out all the vi­sions you had in your life and that’s a truth for most peo­ple. We mostly hear about the suc­cess sto­ries. We wanted to do a story about how it is when things don’t turn out the right way. We are prob­a­bly go­ing to be as lonely and dis­il­lu­sioned as him when we turn 75. But then maybe when he gets rid of all that shit he can fi­nally start to live.

On how they first met

Dragset: We met in a club called After Dark in Copen­hagen. When we left, we found out we didn’t only live in the same area of town but on the same street and in the same build­ing. Copen­hagen is small but not that small. Michael had lived there for a cou­ple of years and I’d only been there for half a year and had ac­tu­ally tried to pick up his ex-boyfriend in the yard. But it was meant to be, I guess. We were both into cul­ture and so in­ter­ested in each other at the time that it seemed nat­u­ral to try some­thing to­gether.

On their early work to­gether

Dragset: It’s very sweet think­ing back to when me and Michael would make knit­ted skirts that we would un­ravel off each other’s body. It was very ro­man­tic.

On work­ing to­gether since their split

Elm­green: It was almost like dis­cov­er­ing each other again. We were to­gether for ten years and we lived to­gether, worked to­gether, shared our econ­omy, even shared socks, we had the same friends and were al­ways trav­el­ling to­gether. We were almost like a two-headed mon­ster. We were like peo­ple who have been part­ners for fifty years. We needed some­thing else, to re­dis­cover each other again, to be two sep­a­rate peo­ple.

Dragset: It did be­come too much. They were fan­tas­tic years and I would never be with­out them but we even had the same email ad­dress and I don’t think that’s healthy. The work has be­come much more in­ter­est­ing, it’s ob­vi­ous that we have much more di­a­logue.

On putting a lit­tle boy on a rock­ing horse in Trafal­gar Square

Elm­green: A lot of peo­ple love to hate projects on the fourth plinth but it ac­tu­ally got quite a nice re­cep­tion.

Dragset: We were afraid that peo­ple would be a bit pissed off be­cause it does take the piss out of Bri­tain, the great em­pire, the his­tory and the war­lords and the hero­ism.

Elm­green: And we were afraid that it was too camp be­cause he has quite camp body lan­guage but then it’s very Bri­tish to be camp. It’s part of the cul­tural her­itage so he was quite ac­cepted even though he might turn out to be

dif­fer­ent to what his mother was ex­pect­ing.

On the memo­rial to gay vic­tims of the Nazis in Berlin

Elm­green: A memo­rial is not an art­work. It func­tions as a place for com­mem­o­ra­tion, con­tem­pla­tion and rep­re­sen­ta­tion. It’s like a slab with a win­dow in it and in the win­dow a film of two guys em­brac­ing in an eter­nal kiss. We wanted to do some­thing that would put out a pos­i­tive im­age. Ev­ery time you have some­thing about gay life in pub­lic it has to be about the hor­rors and the trau­matic events and that’s bad for young guys and girls about to come out. A kiss is a ro­man­tic, emo­tional, pos­i­tive sym­bol, a ho­mo­sex­ual act. That’s the prob­lem with ho­mo­pho­bia, even to­day, in Rus­sia, here in London even: peo­ple don’t want gay men to show af­fec­tion in pub­lic. With all the ac­cep­tance you have in the Western world peo­ple still don’t want to look at it. If you show af­fec­tion, that’s when you risk be­ing gay-bashed.

Dragset: It’s lovely when you pass it in Berlin and you see gay peo­ple there kiss­ing.

On their friend­ship since they split and what gay men can teach the straight world

“We wanted to do a story about how it is when things don’t turn out the right way”

Elm­green: It’s ten years since we split and we are very much like brothers to­day. We share our prob­lems and sor­rows to­gether and bitch about our boyfriends. I think in the gay com­mu­nity we have a much more con­tem­po­rary and ma­ture and re­al­is­tic ap­proach to emo­tional re­la­tion­ships be­cause we had to go through all th­ese con­sid­er­a­tions when we came out. We COULDN’T TAKE IT FOR GRANTED. We had to de­fine our­selves and our de­sires and take it re­ally se­ri­ously so we’re much more geared to solv­ing th­ese prob­lems in a dig­ni­fied way. Het­ero­sex­u­als could cer­tainly learn a lot from us about that.

To­mor­row by Elm­green and Dragset is at the Vic­to­ria and Al­bert Mu­seum in London to 2 Jan­uary 2014. Go to:




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