Whitehot Magazine

June 2011: Elmgreen & Dragset: The One & The Many @ Submarine Wharf (Onderzeebootloods)


  The One & The Many Elmgreen & Dragset
The One & The Many
Elmgreen & Dragset
Submarine Wharf (Onderzeebootloods)
Rotterdam, the Netherlands
28.05.2011 – 25.09.2011

A world company of artists, curators, critics and collectors are beginning to gather on mini bridges and canals for the 54th Venice Biennale. While glasses of prosecco are raised in Italy, to the north pilsners and super strong coffees drunk from a similarly watery landscape will generate rivaling merriment at Elmgreen and Dragset’s The One & The Many. Installed at The Submarine Wharf, a former U-boat factory on Rotterdam’s harbor, the exhibition is basically only accessible by bus boat, boat taxi and the wayfaring rowboat, and well worth the passage. In any case, it’s a fair trade for those of us stuck northern while the Mediterranean parties on.

The One & The Many refabs the space into a city whose unsavory details foreshadow dismal narratives. Some of these stories are implied in a Synechdoche, New York-like apartment building filled with lonesome living rooms populated by stereotypes: the Hooligan whose television blares a soccer match, the Asian with a stovetop wok and Karaoke sing-along, the Grandma/Grandpa with sweet cake and lace. With the exception of one stoner mannequin, the rooms are filled only with artifacts of the imagined occupants.

The One & The Many Elmgreen & Dragset

Outside the concrete block, live actors walk the set, acting out the more specific storylines which still remain murky and subjective. Very young men pose languorously against buildings or in a subway tunnel selling sex, drugs, etc. to each other. Two mechanics crouch beneath a limousine fixing an engine, the carriage to the rear absurdly long, spacious and altogether empty. Paces away, a trashy young mom, the only woman on set, screams into her cell phone and pushes around a very yuppie baby-less carriage. Like the limo, the contradiction (expensive carriage vs. working class looks) mimics the possibilities for the surreal and unpredictable in any given city.

The apartment building’s obvious clichés are dull when compared with what’s going on outside. The super different little rooms certainly pay an easy homage to the idea of mini-worlds making up the whole, but don’t work as hard to imitate actual life as that skanky mama or, elsewhere on set, a little stuffed rat staring up at a bronze sculpture in a rundown plaza.
The One & The Many Elmgreen & Dragset

The One & The Many Elmgreen & Dragset

Though for the most part not interactive (the cash machine doesn’t work and the toilets are always occupied), the installation includes a fully functional Ferris wheel. Operated by two guys in 1950s dress, the little novelty gives a magnificent view of the exhibition. The windows higher up on the apartment building reveal themselves and the set gains a perspective of totality that allows for more objective review. Meanwhile, as you ride, a neon sign blinks The One & The Many, lighting up your face and you’re all in on this Elmgreen and Dragset one-liner. Try riding with a lover. The carriages are real small and may instigate an intimate something or other. Better yet, go with a stranger and start a future classic love story: “We met on a Ferris wheel one summer in a pretend city.”

Sara Blaylock

Sara Blaylock was born and raised in Milwaukee, schooled in Oakland and has since lived as an artist, writer and educator in Western Massachusetts, Barcelona and rural Holland. She is presently studying in the Visual Studies PhD program at the University of California - Santa Cruz. Her artwork and writing can be found at:

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