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We never wanted to do a normal job
Elmgreen & Dragset

They play cat and mouse with institutions: whether Elmgreen & Dragset install a Prada Boutique in the middle of the Texan desert or a mechanical sparrow in the Tate Modern-for over ten years, they have been undermining the art establishment with their disrespectful humor. Deutsche Bank has just purchased one of their works. Kito Nedo introduces the dynamic duo.

Elmgreen & Dragset,
Portrait of the artist as a young (homosexual) man, 2004
Deutsche Bank Collection

The first test for a monument: on this cold overcast day in November, the artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset are standing around an oversized wooden crate on the edge of Berlin's Tiergarten park together with a half dozen representatives from a number of different construction firms. An initial "acceptance" is currently taking place; the men are discussing building and gardening details.

Elmgreen & Dragset, Denkmal für die im
Nationalsozialismus verfolgten Homosexuellen (model), 2005

Beneath the wood is a massive 83-ton cement stele, the Monument to Homosexuals Persecuted During National Socialism, which has not yet been inaugurated. A short time ago, the carefully packed monument was brought from its production site in Munich to Berlin and raised by a special crane onto its designated spot. Now, the oversized moving crate looks somewhat surreal in the Prussian park landscape. But there was a "ceremonial atmosphere" when it arrived, according to Michael Elmgreen.

The wooden crate is opened on one side, exposing concrete treated in a dark color and an inlaid window that provides a view of a video projection inside the massive slab. Here, one sees a scene that repeats itself in one-and-a-half-minute loops: two young men in a park, immersed in a tender conversation interrupted again and again by a kiss. The video will be shown for two years, after which it will be replaced with a work by another artist. The reason for this changeover, which was not part of the original plan, was the massive criticism the monument was subjected to prior to its realization. It was alleged that lesbians were not adequately represented by the images. "We weren't concerned with providing a definitive answer to the representation of homosexuality," says Elmgreen, and adds that the artists are more than happy with a change of video every two years. In any case, the idea of a continuous renewal fits in well with Elmgreen's & Dragset's idea of a living memorial.

Elmgreen & Dragset (with text by Tim Etchells)
Drama Queens, 2007,
Skulpturen Projekte Münster 2007
Courtesy the Artists
Photo Elmar Vestner (

Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset have been collaborating as an artist duo for over ten years; they've been living and working in Berlin since 1997. The native Dane Elmgreen and the Norwegian Dragset, who comes from Trondheim, met for the first time in Copenhagen.

Elmgreen & Dragset, Fashion Fags Go Home, 2005
Courtesy the artists

That was in 1994, and it happened in "one of the dirtiest gay discos in the city"-at least that's what they told the British Times. In the early '90s, Elmgreen was still a multimedia poet and Dragset was working with a small experimental theater group. Soon afterwards, they took their first steps together as a performance duo. Neither of the two have ever studied at an art academy. "We only became artists by chance," says Elmgreen.

Elmgreen & Dragset, Short Cut, 2003
installation in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, Milano
Courtesy Massimo de Carlo
Photo Jens Ziehe

"We had one goal in common: we never wanted to do a normal job." But their first absurd happenings and performances in the tradition of the Fluxus art of Allan Kaprow and Carolee Schneeman didn't exactly unleash unbridled enthusiasm in the Danish capital's small art scene. "Two gay performance artists in a tiny, classically-oriented art scene partly dominated by Danish versions of the 'Young Wilds'-that didn't exactly promise much success, as you can perhaps imagine," he recalls of their early years in Copenhagen.

They soon decided to move to Berlin, which in the mid-nineties was searching for a new identity just as feverishly as the two Scandinavians were seeking their own artistic language. "If we had stayed in Copenhagen, we would have wound up in a dead end," the two realize today. "The great thing about Berlin in 1997 was that there weren't any fixed structures yet. No one knew in what direction things would develop. That's why there was such openness to new arrivals in the city."

Elmgreen & Dragset,
Cruising Pavilion/Powerless Structures, Fig. 55, 1998
installation viewMarselisborg Forest, Århus
Photo Bent Ryberg / Planet Photo
Courtesy: Galleri Nicolai Wallner, Kopenhagen

"Nobody could afford to shut anyone else out. Berlin needed new input. It wasn't about entering an established art scene; it was far more about being a part of it all, wherever something was happening. There were meeting places like Daniel Pflumm's Panasonic Bar on Invalidenstraße." It was the anarchic spirit of those days, the sensitivity of a scene in the process of emergence that charges the art of the pair to this day. Even now, they've retained a certain lack of respect and humor from that time. Yet it remains important to them not to be reduced to certain roles, such as that of the amusing institution critic.

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