Exhibited at Bangkok Art Biennial: Oct. 19, 2018 - Feb. 03, 2019
Once again, Elmgreen & Dragset confront the conventions of large scale, outdoor sculp- ture with their new artwork, Zero (2018). Where the traditional function of public sculpture is to commemorate historic events in a monumental fashion, or consist of an abstract form, this work rather re-imagines an everyday object as a reduced take on a garden-style swimming pool. Though it stands upright, lacks the depth of a pool and is only represented by its white, oval outline shape, ladder and diving board, it is enough to crystallize the visual reference of a swimming pool. In the tradition of minimalist sculpture, the artists distill the pool down to its most basic parts, and in doing so, demonstrate that few elements are needed to render an object recognizable. The work, which is tall and in the shape of an ellipse, becomes a soft yet giant rectangular picture frame through which one can perceive the surrounding cityscape; as well as the nearby river which is visible through the sculpture’s central void. Elmgreen & Dragset’s works often negate functionality, and in doing so, shift the emphasis of the viewer’s relationship to an object from physical and interactive to emotional and either critical or cerebral. The sculpture refers to the title of this biennial “Beyond Bliss” by pointing to the enormous tourist industry in Thailand, which promises paradise get-a-ways where the swimming pool plays a central role.
The combination of displacement and minimal aesthetics makes this a signature work by Elmgreen & Dragset, where the swimming pool’s design – signifed by a protruding diving board and ladder – is emphasized further when presented as a single, hollowed out object. Furthermore, where it is ordinarily sunk into the ground, its unusual upright position is also at odds with its normal functionality in order to encourage new ways of viewing and to ll the object‘s void with new meaning. Zero‘s modernist shape closely resembles Eero Saarinen’s famous Gateway Arch in St. Louis, MO and could therefore also be seen as an entry point or a landmark in reference to historical arches and gates from around the world.
Elmgreen & Dragset are renowned for transforming busy public spaces, where in the summer of 2016, they placed a corresponding upright swimming pool sculpture titled Van Gogh’s Ear, in New York City’s Rockefeller Center. The pool stood vertically in the center of a pedestri- an plaza and seemed uprooted and surreal in the context of a busy tourist hub, surrounded by skyscrapers and businesses. The context in which the vertical swimming pools are placed, therefore evoke a feeling of alienation and wonder. This theme of “otherness” has also appeared in Prada Marfa (2005), a previous project by Elmgreen & Dragset which saw the artists transplant a Prada store into the middle of the Texan desert. The swimming pool motif continues in the line of many past works by Elmgreen & Dragset and includes the installation titled Powerless Structures, Fig. 11 (1997) in which a diving board penetra- tes a window at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, and the presentation of Death of a Collector (2009) at the 53rd Venice Biennale, in which an art collector oats face down in his swimming pool.