The Scandinavian duo Elmgreen and Dragset’s Tomorrow exhibition is quite unlike anything else you would likely come across in the rest of the V&A. Everything is arranged to be touched, to be rummaged through. It places the viewer in the role of voyeur, passing uninvited through the house of Norman Swann, an aging, failed architect. Venture in, and you will find yourself in suspended animation, transported into a flat that could belong behind any of the closed doors in South Kensington. The entrance hall is austere, dimly lit, and richly decorated, yet looks lived-in. There are brown shoes lined up by the doorway; a yellow post-it note on the ornate mirror demands the electricity bill be paid. A doorway leads to a large living room, decorated with an odd mix of inherited antiques and rather more modern fare. A crude plaster statue of a giant head stands guard to a wall-to-wall bookcase, filled with red leather-bound books and vases and figurines that could be worth quite a bit. But the plaster is moulding where the water pipe has leaked, there are cold ashes from a cigar in the ash tray, and congealing coffee at the bottom of a cup, abandoned on the table. There is a musty feel to these rooms, a seeping sense of neglect, of a house haunted by its once grand past. A small boy in a school uniform cowers in the fireplace. Could he be a resident? A huge painting of the same child hangs just above; a memory then, perhaps a ghost. Past a closed door behind which a shower is perpetually running, the grand rooms give way to a badly refitted modern kitchen. Domino’s pizza boxes are piled up in a corner, and packing boxes filled with paintings and antiques occupy much of the room. Half-finished cardboard models of tower blocks and modern buildings balance precariously around the adjoining study. A bowl is stuffed with room service bills from a New York Hotel (eggs, OJ and coffee). A large stuffed vulture looms over the desk. Throughout the flat the atmosphere is expectant, as if some great drama is about to unfold. Indeed, the set of rooms, carefully installed in the V&A’s old Tapestry gallery, is apparently the set for “Tomorrow; Scenes from an unrealised film by Elmgreen and Dragset”– the script can be found in small books by the entrance. But the sense of reality evoked by the installation is so vivid that by the time I had made my way to the bedroom, with its rumpled unmade sheets, such a sense of character and place had taken root that it seemed hard to remember that Norman Swann was fictitious, and not simply in the shower. Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset have created an installation anyone could spend hours in. There is such richness and depth in the rooms they have created for the fictional protagonist, that leaving Norman’s Swann home via a door in the bookshelves, only to find the bare bones of wooden set pieces on the outside and not the solid plastered walls of a grand South Kensington flat, is quite jarring. It is a remarkable installation that considers the objects that we fill our lives with, and the clues we leave to our thoughts and circumstances in the spaces we occupy; a fantastic introduction to the duo’s bold and innovative work.
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