Elmgreen & Dragset at Istanbul Biennial 2017, Bazaar, September 14, 2017
The Danish-Norwegian artist duo have been challenging notions of power through their multidisciplinary work since they first emerged in 1995. They’ve now taken on the curation of this year’s Istanbul Biennial. Maria Marques speaks to them in Istanbul.
In the winter of 2012, an unusual figure joined the austere statues in London’s Trafalgar Square. A bronze sculpture of a young boy riding his rocking horse with gusto, his right arm raised in the tradition of equestrian statuary, took its place atop of the square’s empty Fourth Plinth. The child’s insouciance made the staid kings and war heroes presiding over the square look somewhat uneasy. In the company of monuments commemorating the military victories of Britain’s imperial past, Powerless Structures, Fig. 101 appeared to invite spectators to celebrate the innocence of childhood instead.
As self-confessed outsiders to the art world, the pair could not help but wonder at the seemingly arbitrary conventions and limitations that governed it. This realisation led to the artists’ on-going series, Powerless Structures. Inspired by the French philosopher Michel Foucault’s writings on power, they began — quite literally — rocking the foundations on which the art institution stood. In Traces of a Never Existing History / Powerless Structures, Fig. 222, which was part of the 2001 Istanbul Biennial, the pair sunk a Kunsthalle replica into the earth. In Powerless Structures, Fig. 111 (2001), they elevated the floor of the Portikus, a contemporary art space in Frankfurt, creating an obstacle that forced hasty art consumers to slow down their pace.