Come on in, make yourself at home at the V&A

Elmgreen & Dragset install a house at the Victoria and Albert Museum


London. “Look, don’t touch” may be the unwritten rule for gallery-goers everywhere, but Elmgreen & Dragset’s site-specific installation at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) invites visitors to participate at every turn. The Scandinavian artists were asked to propose an exhibition more than three years ago, and seized upon the museum’s former textile galleries as the ideal setting. Inspired by the five rooms’ domestic scale, they created a set for an unrealised film—a flat belonging to Norman Swann, a disillusioned, elderly (and fictional) architect.

Accompanying script

Participation is at the core of “Tomorrow”, with visitors permitted to rifle through Norman’s books, lie in his bed and take home copies of Elmgreen & Dragset’s accompanying script (a drama starring Swann and the prospective buyer of his inherited home). The script addresses “the relationships you build up with objects and the way we privilege certain objects over others”, says Louise Shannon, the V&A’s curator of digital design. She says the artists “want visitors to feel as if they’re sitting in someone’s house; they’ve gone to the toilet for a little bit too long and you think ‘I might just be able to get away with looking in that drawer’”.

Shannon helped the artists select more than 100 objects from the museum’s collection. “They have a way of looking that’s really different to a curator. Usually we’re looking at the best examples, but here, it’s about what is the best object to tell a story,” she says. Elmgreen & Dragset’s choices range from the 15th to the mid-20th centuries and include paintings, bronzes, furniture and fashion. The museum’s objects are mixed with props, with no signs to identify which is which.

The artists have banned institutional language from the show, which is sponsored by the consulting firm Alix Partners, and there are “no plinths; it’s not about a hierarchy of knowledge”, Shannon says. Gallery assistants are dressed in character (as butlers, for example) and interact with visitors accordingly. The artists’ Table for Bergman, 2009, takes pride of place in the dining room, “but instead of saying ‘please don’t touch the work’, we’ll be saying ‘sorry, this table is set for guests’. It’s a very different V&A experience,” Shannon says.

• Tomorrow: Elmgreen & Dragset at the V&A, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1 October-2 January 2014

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as ‘Come on in, make yourself at home'