The Whitechapel Gallery has undergone many changes in its long history but none as surprising as this. The Evening Standard can now reveal that artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset’s much-anticipated autumn installation has transformed the gallery into a disused swimming pool on the brink of reinvention as a luxury spa. By Ben Luke
When I meet the Scandinavian duo (Elmgreen, 57, was born in Copenhagen, Denmark; Dragset, 49, in Trondheim, Norway), the installation is in its early stages. But already the Whitechapel’s lower gallery is shape-shifting into a light-filled yet forlorn early Edwardian public pool. The pair’s sculptures will be dotted here and throughout the galleries in a show titled This Is How We Bite Our Tongue. Upstairs is what they call The Chapel, a brooding, gloomy negative to the daylit pool below, sardonically reflecting on contemporary masculinity. Even incomplete, it’s a spectacular show.
The pair are “encouraging the space to perform new roles,” Elmgreen says. “I feel the ground floor [the pool] is playing along,” responds Dragset, with a laugh. “Yes, it really wanted to become a public pool,” Elmgreen adds. Dragset explains the way they work: “You come in, you analyse the space, you get inspired by the architecture and interior, the surroundings, what this space means in the local environment, and then ideas come up.”
Image: Elmgreen & Dragset, The Whitechapel Pool, 2018