I did not know exactly what to expect from the Elmgreen and Dragset exhibit at the V&A. I had not heard much about it to to begin with, other than it was supposed to be the mock-up of the house of an unsuccessful architect. Generally I prefer not knowing much about art installations, films or theatre plays. I like to enter them in a tabula rasa state of no expectations. If you are like me maybe you should stop reading this post right here. Nonetheless this time my habit worked against me as I was not aware of the fact that visitors were allowed to touch things, sit on furniture and go through the paper work on display.
Upon my entrance I realised that the exhibition attendants were in character as butlers, wearing full uniforms. This, combined with my ignorance of the tactile policy of the exhibit, was the reason for my confusion when I saw a lady (who turned out to be a visitor just like me), shuffling around some papers that were spread out on a table. Judging from the attendants of the exhibition posing as servants, I actually thought she was part of the installation as well.
It was not until I was home and read some articles about what I had just seen that I realised I could have touched and poked things. Momentarily I was disappointed for not having had the full experience, but that was only my initial reaction. Thinking about it, the purpose for this quite unusual policy must have been to confuse people who are used to treat art as if it is sacred. In some ways I was quite baffled myself trying to figure out if the lady I saw was part of the whole thing or not. Another possible reason for being allowed to touch things could be to bring art down from its pedestal of high importance and make a statement about the art world’s pretentiousness that can be only matched with that of the fashion world.
Having come across “Tomorrow” in London Architecture Diary (see here) it made sense to try to figure out the actual connection with architecture. The fact that this was supposed to be the house of an unsuccessful architect was not enough. Part of the installation is an office that looks very familiar to anyone who is involved in architecture, with scale models, sketches, hand-drawings, newspaper cut-outs etc. This hardly felt like a reason to recommend this exhibition to architects because we already know how our offices look like. The fact that architecture is an art but extremely rarely is considered so precious that one is not allowed to touch it could have been the actual connection. There is something very real about it because regardless of the fact that it might be held in high esteem, people enter it and use it. Life is not only reflected on architecture but very visibly rubs off on it as well.
The whole experience also made me think about what does it exactly mean to be a successful architect. More than any other time in history, an architectural showbiz is flourishing. Designers who have not offered to the world much more than a certain style or as usually mentioned a “brand” are rising to rock-star-status fame. According to the press and of course the all-mighty social media these are the people who are mainly considered successful. Everyone else is a failure. In this particular case I found it extremely amusing that someone who is supposed to live in the lap of luxury is seen as unsuccessful.
The crack across the dining table the hyper-realistic statue of the schoolboy in the fireplace (whose photograph and portrait is also featured in almost every room of the house), the mess outside of the office and the general feeling of abandonment convey a deep sadness. This sadness though combined with the luxury and the fallen glory do not evoke any sympathy to the visitor. The architect’s identity in particular is used to make the absent host look even more spoiled and obnoxious. Supposedly he had an expensive education and also comes from a wealthy family but he did not manage to become famous and now he is feeling sorry for himself. He is a lost little boy hidden in the fireplace. I believe that the majority of visitors want to just say to him “get over it mate”.
This installation stirs many feelings about the architectural profession in general and in some ways it is rather psychoanalytical. I do not believe that it does any favours to the architect who’s house we are visiting nor to any architect for that matter. I still found it very interesting and I do recommend it. It will be on until January the 2nd
Exhibitions website here