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Elmgreen & Dragset open ‘The Old World’ at Galerie Perrotin, Hong Kong this April

February 25, 2014 Destination Global No Comments Email Email

Galerie Perrotin is pleased to present “THE OLD WORLD”, the first solo exhibition by the artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset in Hong Kong. 

From April 3 until May 3, visitors are invited to view “THE OLD WORLD”, which is both an elaborate film set and an exhibition in its own right. During the course of the exhibition, a film will be shot using the exhibited sculptures as protagonists, around whom the action evolves.

In “THE OLD WORLD”, Elmgreen & Dragset revisit their interest in the dilemma of European historical identity and cultural heritage in a contemporary globalized world. What significance do European traditions have within the new world order? In a humorous and surreal manner, Elmgreen & Dragset’s sculptural works play with classic European references in the context of Hong Kong, a former member of the British Empire, which today is a major financial powerhouse. The artists subtly transform the spatial features of the gallery’s main room into a stylized domestic setting, darkened to obtain a faux gothic ambience. The space shrinks into an otherworldly atmosphere with white sculptures tightly lit against a black background, as if the entire room and every object were taken out of a three dimensional black and white photograph.

One of the sculptures, “Unfinished Symphony” (2013), alludes to Gustav Mahler, whose final composition “Symphony No. 10” remained unfinished at the time of his death. An oversized and seemingly not yet completed plaster bust pays homage to the grandeur of the composer and classical music, but can also be read as a metaphor for the current cultural crises in what is considered “The Old World”. Has time simply run out for the epic visions of former times? A series of works presenting an exaggerated number of antique looking fireplaces placed along the walls, seems to indicate that the idea of a linear writing of history needs to be reconsidered. Upon these neoclassical style mantelpieces, one sees clocks whose hands are standing still. Upon one mantelpiece is placed a dramatic pile of books that cannot be opened, as they are made of carved wood and all painted ghostly white. Atop another one of the fireplaces sits a white miniature of “Powerless Structures, Fig. 101”, the artists’ Fourth Plinth Commission in London’s Trafalgar Square  (2012 – 2013) – a boy astride a rocking horse – hinting at Europe’s vainglorious equestrian sculpture tradition. Finally the old class system is apparent in the work “White Maid” (2014), a life-size bronze sculpture painted matte white and depicting a Caucasian maid, dressed in the classic black and white maid uniform.

In the adjacent room the central object is “He”, a male counterpart to Denmark’s national symbol “The Little Mermaid”. “He” (2013) is positioned gazing out at the panoramic view of Hong Kong’s skyline through the gallery’s 17th floor window as if this figurative, poetic sculpture longs to be part of the busy city life happening outside. At the opposite end of the room is “Heritage” (2014), a judicial wig, also known as a peruke or periwig, a British colonial tradition still used in Hong Kong courthouses today. The wig is displayed on a stand, limp and emptied of its symbolic meaning when not worn by a judge; taken out of context, its old fashioned, odd design further pinpoints the ever-changing meaning of power symbols.

All of the works in “THE OLD WORLD“ deal with the monolithic concept of European history and culture, which the artists have previously examined through their staging of twisted domestic interiors, most recently in their exhibition “Tomorrow” at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, 2013 and in “The Collectors” at the 53rd Venice Biennale, 2009. Elmgreen & Dragset often construct scenarios with a loose narrative thread to be filled in and completed by the audience. As a visitor to one of Elmgreen & Dragset’s shows, you often get the feeling that an activity has been going on prior to your arrival or is just about to happen – and that you as the audience will play a part in some sort of scripted, but as yet unknown, performance.

Many of Elmgreen & Dragset’s exhibitions are reminiscent of film sets. With their ongoing interest in extended and compressed time within different modes of narratives, the artists will utilize the exhibition setting of “THE OLD WORLD” to shoot a black and white short film. The film will show how an exhibition truly comes to life only through its visitors. With the help of professional actors from Hong Kong’s vital film industry, characters such as an art critic, a collector, a student and a cleaner will appear in a series of interconnected, small scenes. Filmed from the perspective of the exhibition itself, giving the artworks the opportunity to tell the story from their point of view, the film chronicles the “life of an exhibition”. Like Mahler’s unfinished symphony, the entire exhibition can be conceived of as an unfinished portrait, up to the audience to complete.

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