‘there is a craving for expanding the truth in the world today – because things have become so simplified, so boiled down to black and white’.
Elmgreen and Dragset’s work is like a plunge into a cold lake. You surface, shake your head, and feel that you are seeing the world with new eyes. They began their policy of shaking things up by reinventing the gallery space. A space was built within a space, another was buried in the ground, and yet another was tilted up on its edge.
The ground floor of the Whitechapel plays host to a swimming pool (image 1),
a familiar trope of theirs. A text on the wall spins an elaborate yarn about how brilliant the pool used to be. But this pool is abandoned and all the details of its decrepitude are immaculate. There is a range of possible interpretations but there is no escaping the central theme of our loss of confidence in social space.
The vein of eroticism that runs through their work comes in different guises. Gay Marriage (image 2) consists of twin urinals connected by a twisted downpipe, which must surely signify a spanner in the works of a relationship.
The naked man though, who is bound so that he faces the highly polished cross (image 3) appears to be displayed for our pleasure, and may well be enjoying it himself.
Masculinity as an issue is affectionately mocked.
Although the work indisputably deals with serious themes, there is a sense of fun as well. A familiar sight in British galleries is a Donation Box. Theirs (image 4) contains among other things, a bent Oyster card, a used railway ticket, a single very large and very dirty trainer and a disposable lighter imprinted with a shaggy dog.
Elmgreen and Dragset ‘This is How We Bite Our Tongues’ is at the Whitechapel Gallery next to Aldgate Tube station until 13 January.