Elmgreen & Dragset’s sculpture Watching depicts a young man sitting on a lifeguard chair, peering through binoculars. As in many of Elmgreen & Dragset’s installations, it is not clear if an action has just happened or is about to take place. Viewers do not know what the young man is looking at: in the process of viewing him, they conjure up what he is seeing through the binoculars in their own imaginations. Yet the perspective here is limited, as viewers will never be able to assume the position of the young man, since he is already occupying it, viewing any number of potential scenes.
The lifeguard is another example of the sort of solitary figure often present in the duo’s works, usually male, and occurring across all ages and stages of life, such as Powerless Structures, Fig. 101, their winning Fourth Plinth Commission for London’s Trafalgar Square of a young boy astride his rocking horse; Han, their permanent public sculpture in Denmark of a young man seated in the same position as The Little Mermaid; or One Day, a young boy gazing at a rifle in a display case.
The artists often blend a realistic, human figure with some sort of everyday object, erasing the hierarchy between person and thing, and simultaneously making the object perform, while objectifying the performance. Like the artists’ sculpture A Greater Perspective—an oversized telescope towering over the heads of visitors and currently on view on the High Line in New York—here, the binoculars, which normally grant a close-up view of something from afar, have, together with the lifeguard, been turned into the very subjects being observed. The matte, grey surface of the sculpture has a haptic effect, bringing out details like the figure’s hair and muscles, and capturing his intent, focused posture in a moment in time.