Tomorrow Exhibition: Elmgreen and Dragset

Victoria and Albert Museum

Until 2nd January 2014

November 14, 2013
by Ronan McFadden
Elmgreen and Dragset, Tomorrow, Instillation View, 2013. Photo Anders Sune Berg

Elmgreen and Dragset, Tomorrow, Instillation View, 2013. Photo Anders Sune Berg

An alarming banner appeared on the front of the Victoria and Albert Museum at the end of September, advertising a unique residential property for sale inside. Could times really be so tough that the V&A had been forced to sell a gallery to developers? Thankfully, the answer is no. This typically wry act of misdirection from Scandinavian artists Elmgreen and Dragset was a prelude to the October opening of their ingenious Tomorrow installation in the Museum’s former Textile Galleries.

The art duo has transformed the space into the warped facsimile of a plush South Kensington apartment, and fabricated an entire history for the property with an accompanying unrealised film script, also entitled ‘Tomorrow’, given to visitors on arrival. The apartment is alleged to be the inherited home of fictional pensioner, former Cambridge lecturer and failed architect, Norman Swann. The installation, containing an array of decorative objects and art from the V&A’s collections, as well as found pieces and new commissions created by the artists, is ostensibly the elaborate set for this unrealised film.

Greeted in the foyer by a well-dressed footman (the V&A staff are in character as old-fashioned household servants), the public is invited to explore this luxurious, traditional home at leisure, to sit on the living room couch and select something to read from the bookshelf. After walking through the typical look-but-don’t-touch galleries of the V&A, the experience feels pleasantly transgressive. But it quickly becomes clear that something is seriously amiss in this old, strange place. Near the entrance, the dining table has been cleft violently in two, a fault line running down the centre. Just behind, in the fireplace, a small model schoolboy sits huddled and crying beneath his own gigantic painted portrait. The script confirms that the boy is a young Norman Swann; this is the memory of a past event. It seems that something traumatic has taken place here, even if the details are unclear.

The kitchen, with its brand new appliances, half-finished paint job and stack of removal boxes, indicates a property in the process of changing hands. The script confirms that Swann is now bankrupt and has been forced to sell the flat to his former student, Daniel Wilder, now a successful architect with an axe to grind. In packing up his lifelong home, Swann has stirred up the ghosts of his past. Everywhere, objects and documents testify to the weight of inherited history and the pathetic reality of thwarted ambition. In the drawing studio, reams of architectural diagrams for unrealised, utopian projects and a 1951 Festival of Britain poster poignantly imply long-held dreams of a bright future that stagnated.

In Tomorrow, Elmgreen and Dragset have created a rich and subtle installation that blends elements of visual art, design and narrative to create a fully immersive experience. The two create a vacuum of ideas concerning the oppressive weight of history, the illusion of property, and the cruel passage of time.