ELMGREEN & DRAGSET
This Is How We Bite Our Tongue
Visitors to the exhibition are immediately transported to a vast, eerily abandoned public swimming pool. Commissioned especially for Whitechapel Gallery, The Whitechapel Pool points to a loss of faith in public space in an era of austerity. The commission is accompanied by a fictional narrative charting the swimming pool’s rise and fall, from its philanthropic founding in 1901 to its rise as a famed public amenity and its politically sanctioned and commercially driven decline.
One gallery is dedicated to Self Portraits – monumental labels carved in marble or painted on canvas – that pay tribute to works of art that have inspired the artists and shaped their identity. Their tributes to artists ranging from Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) to Mark Morrisroe (1959-1989) are accompanied by a desk complete with a diary and a bottle of whiskey. The Bottle and the Book (2015) invites visitors to break common gallery rules by sitting on the artwork and taking a drink.
This Is How We Bite Our Tongue culminates with a display of figurative sculptures presented in a chapel-like atmosphere, much like relics or icons. According to the artists, they ‘speak of misguided reverence and of judgement, lust and fear’.
Some sculptures question traditional perceptions of masculinity: in One Day (2015) a young boy gazes at a rifle in a display case; while Invisible (2017) depicts a boy hiding inside a mantelpiece. The housemaid is a recurring figure in the artists’ oeuvre; here Pregnant White Maid (2017) might serve as a symbol of abuse or bear hope of the future. In Elmgreen & Dragset’s uncanny universe, we will never know for sure.
Elmgreen & Dragset said: “This is How We Bite Our Tongue is an exhibition about emotions held inside, not said out loud. It is about withdrawal and resignation, about absence and impermanence, the feeling of loss, of losing agency as well as community.
But it is also about reconciliation and resilience”. The artists draw inspiration from the 19th-century Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864 – 1916), who subtly turned his depictions of domestic spaces into psychological dramas of bourgeois repression.
Iwona Blazwick, Director, Whitechapel Gallery, said “Having sited a monumental boy on a rocking horse among the admirals of Trafalgar Square, revealed a failed modernist architect’s flat inside the V&A and perched a vulture in the trees of Regent’s Park, Elmgreen & Dragset will make visible the disappearance of civic space while also offering an overview of two decades of their uncanny sculpture”.
Dina Amin, Phillips’ Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art Department, Europe, said: “This Is How We Bite Our Tongue is the first major overview for artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset and Phillips is thrilled to support Whitechapel Gallery for this widely anticipated exhibition. At Phillips, we continue to champion and support the work of artists whose transformative works challenge and excite the imagination. Our goal is to foster a new dialogue about artists like Elmgreen & Dragset and we look forward to welcoming both new and longstanding admirers of theirs to this exhibition.”
Photos by Elmar Vestner and Doug Peters