(Elmgreen & Dragset)
One day, Denmark born Michael Elmgreen met a man named Ingar Dragset from Norway, and together they decided to create art 16 years ago. The duo has been wowing audiences internationally with their architectural sculptural pieces at shows including Venice Biennial (2009), Sao Paulo Biennial (2002), Gwangju Biennial (2002), Istanbul Biennial (2001), and Manifesta 3 (2000). Those are just a few stop on their power world tour. Next Tuesday, the artists will launch their largest performance piece for the launch of Performa 11 entitled Happy Days in the Art World. We asked the partners-in-crime who are hosting the hot ticket next Tuesday to tell us a bit more about their upcoming week…
The Standard: You are opening the Performa Biennial, which is one of the most anticipated events in New York for culture-piles. How does it feel to carry such a lovely evening and is there a nervousness to presenting the new works?
Elmgreen & Dragset: The great thing about Performa is that it makes all these visual artists coming out of their usual comfort zone and do something different. It is very different to do something live than it is to prepare an object based show in a museum. There is no safety net when it comes to a stage performance.
Can you remember a time when you first knew you wanted to dedicate yourselves to creating performance art for a living? When was that and what was your earliest memory?
Ingar and I started doing performances together because Ingar came from theatre - so it was kind of a logical way to start our collaboration. But the live acts is not exactly what we make our money on [laughs].
You both began working together in 1995. Can you share with us exactly the moment you both knew that you wanted to work as a team? What was the revelation that informed you of this?
We had been boyfriends for a year and shared a lot of values and views, so it just came naturally.
This is the largest piece of performance work you have presented in New York. Exactly how big is the scope of work for you?
It took a year to write the play. Of course we did exhibitions and created works beside this, but writing is a slow process.
(Happy Days in the Art World is a darkly comic self-portrait of the two artists)
In a nutshell, can you describe the basic premise of Happy Days in the Art World? How did Samuel Beckett’s play, Happy Days (1961), become the primary source of inspiration?
In several Beckett plays you have these grumpy, confused, mature male characters who somehow could remind us a bit of cartoon versions of ourselves. One might also find some of Beckett’s absurd humorous style in our installations and sculptural works.
How did Joseph Fiennes and Charles Edwards become a part of this play and tell us something about working with these fine gentlemen?
We worked with Joseph Fiennes before in 2008 at the Old Vic in London. It was great that Charles agreed to play the other main character since these two actors are just such a fantastic match.
(Prada Marfa Installation, Texas. Elmgreen & Dragset )
One of your most famous sculptural installations within the the New York art and fashion circles is the Prada Marfa structure in Marfa, Texas. What was the source or message in that architectural installation… and is there an overlying theme you explore in most of your architectural installations?
The idea for Prada Marfa came up right after having done a show in a Chelsea gallery where we had covered the window front of gallery with white sheets of paper upon which there was printed “Opening Soon Prada”. Everybody believed the gallery was closing and a Prada store would open, so it was not a particular popular show by the gallery owner who didn’t sell anything throughout that month and had to explain to everybody that she was not about to go out of business. After that experience, the next step would, of course, be to place a real Prada boutique in a desert – in the middle of nowhere – and that nowhere happened to be outside Marfa, in the Texan desert.
Is there a planned celebration or vacation after the big night and week at Performa? How do you men relax and after such an amazing feat?
Oh, after this we have to prepare our sculpture for the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square in London, which will be inaugurated mid February. But we’ll stay in New York until November 10th and look forward to spend a bit longer time here.
The show Happy Days in the Art World by Elmgreen & Dragset premieres on Tuesday, November 1st (7:30 - 9:30 PM) with a second performance on Thursday, November 3rd (7:30 - 9:30 PM). Tickets to the gala can be purchased at Performa-Arts.org.