Artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset have been collaborating for more than a decade to create sculptures and installations that challenge conventional notions of institutions and public spaces within contemporary society. Their latest exhibition ‘The Welfare Show’ now comes to London.
Norwegian Ingar Dragset and Dane Michael Elmgreen have since 1997 been creating a series called ‘Powerless Structures’ that investigates the way in which sites such as prisons, social security offices, hospitals, museums, galleries and parks act as means of social control.
'The Welfare Show', which will be presented at the Serpentine Gallery for a month to the end of February, extends the artists’ investigation to the welfare model within the Western world. Through a series of works and an extensive, encyclopaedia style catalogue, they invite visitors to consider power structures including economic disparity, health care, immigration, travel, prostitution, the police state and the role art plays in society. This raises such question as what is the welfare state? How liberal and socially responsible is it? Does it really exist, and is the political system threatened by globalisation and multinationalism? The travelling exhibition – also presented in Bergen (Norway), Vienna and Toronto – is redesigned by the artists for each location in response to the specific conditions that impact on the various cities and countries.
Throughout their career, Elmgreen and Dragset have uncovered and challenged, among other things, the way in which art is typically presented and experienced. In their exhibition at Kunsthalle Zürich, 2001–02, technicians demolished walls, erected new ones, emptied offices and painted and lit the space for six weeks – exposing, as a performance for viewers to witness, the activities that are typically behind the scenes.
Most recently the artists have created 'Prada Marfa', 2005, a site-specific, permanent project outside Marfa, Texas. Here they made a building that emulates the style and displays of the fashion house’s signature shops around the world. However, set on the otherwise desolate route between El Paso and Marfa, the stark, minimalist building stands in contrast to the landscape and context, and through this juxtaposition it raises questions about the aesthetics within contemporary consumerist culture and our perception of nature as sublime.
Elmgreen and Dragset, who currently live and work in Berlin, have been included in numerous exhibitions internationally, including the 'Untitled' series at Tate Modern in 2003 and Utopia Station at the 50th Venice Biennale in 2003. They were nominated in 2000 for the Hugo Boss Prize and received Germany’s biggest art prize, Preis der Nationalgalerie für Junge Kunst, in 2002.
'Michael Elmgreen & Ingar Dragset: The Welfare Show' is initiated by Bergen Kunsthall, Norway and produced in collaboration between Bergen Kunsthall; Bawag Foundation, Vienna; The Power Plant, Toronto and Serpentine Gallery, London.
The Serpentine Gallery is partly funded by Arts Council England and Westminster City Council. The remainder of its income is raised through corporate sponsorship, as well as the support of individuals and charitable organisations. The gallery reopened in February 1998 following a £4 million renovation, funded by the National Lottery, through the Arts Council of England, as well as a number of other generous donations.
The Welfare Show
26 January - 26 February 2006
London W2 3XA
Tel: 020 7402 6075
Fax: 020 7402 4103
Michael Elmgreen & Ingar Dragset Social Mobility 2005 Aluminium, wood, polystyrene, iron, concrete 430 x 700 x 200cm
Photo: © 2005 Elmgreen & Dragset Photo © Thor Brødreskift