East London sits close to my heart, so when I heard Whitechapel Gallery had an exhibition related to gentrification and capitalism, I grabbed my Felix pen and notebook and ventured out of our comfortable West London.
The two artists in question; Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, from Denmark and Norway respectively, have been working together for over 20 years now. The duo doesn’t confine themselves to one or even a couple of mediums: their installations come as full experiences. As I walk through the doors at the gallery I enter into a room with a large swimming pool in the middle. I could be in an abandoned Hungarian bath, but I’m in an art gallery. The setting is the Whitechapel Pool, a public swimming pool for the local community, supposedly at its peak during the 70s. The pool and the whole story are of course just fictional products painting a vibrant story for the exhibition. It’s not just the pool in the room though; a fallen large sculpture, a metallic car seat and a big rock weighing down a trampoline are a few other things scattered around the room. Everything is run-down and abandoned. There is sand and dust on the bottom of the pool. It’s a story of gentrification that Elmgreen and Dragset have painted up here. It is a story of taking something away from the community and giving it to capitalism. This used to be a communal pool bustling with life, but now it is going to be made into a luxurious spa for members only.
The pool is not the only installation in the exhibition. On my way up the stairs I come to face an ATM machine on the wall. On the floor beneath lays a baby in a bassinet. I freeze up for a second and look around, wondering who could have left their baby here. I see the gallery guards smirking over at my reaction. The baby is a wax doll, a very believable one. Elmgreen & Dragset: 1, Amanda: 0. The installation raises questions; what could the guardian of this child possibly have seen on the screen / have been doing at the ATM before deciding to leave their baby behind?
Even this is not all there is, there is a room full of more shocking sculptures, and another room titled ‘Self-portraits’. I’ll let you find out what’s in there on your own though. The work of Elmgreen and Dragset is truly performed in such a thoughtful and successful way. Living in the reality of 2018, with capitalism, gentrification, populism and a push for equality, I think art needs to address these topics, and discovering new ways to execute this since the graffiti of the 80s is even better. I would even highly suggest checking out the artists and their previous installations online. Definitely not your average exhibition at the National Gallery.