Apollo
Interviews

In the studio with… Elmgreen & Dragset

2 November 2021

Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset have worked together since the mid 1990s. For one of their best-known projects, in 2005, they implanted a full-scale replica of a Prada boutique in the Marfa desert; they have also installed an emptied swimming pool in the Whitechapel Gallery into a derelict swimming pool and turned Victoria Miro’s London gallery into a gay club without the clubbers. For their latest exhibition, ‘Elmgreen & Dragset: The Nervous System’ at Pace in New York, the artists have created an ‘almost surreal depiction of a dysfunctional home’ full of bronze figures.

Where is your studio? 
Our studio is located in Neukölln in Berlin.

What do you like most about the space?
It is a former water-pumping station with an amazing ceiling height of 40ft which is really helpful for us when we make mock-ups of big outdoor sculptures. We have several floors in the studio, so there is a variety of spaces where different activities can take place.

What frustrates you about it?
There’s a lot of stairs.

Flo (2020), Elmgreen & Dragset.

Flo (2020), Elmgreen & Dragset. Photo: Melissa Goodwin; courtesy Pace Gallery

Do you work alone?
Haha – as an artist duo we never work alone. We also have a fantastic team to help us with technical stuff, research, logistics, administration, etc.

How messy is your studio?
Sometimes a little chaotic but rather tidy most of the time. When we have many people working there it is urgent that we know where tools and materials are.

What does it smell like?
Cut metal, paint, burned wood, food… depends on the activities.

What’s the weirdest object in there?
We sometimes have casts of various body parts, from practice runs or proofs of the figurative sculptures we make. Sometimes they can catch people off guard, especially if they’re realistic, like a cast hand poking out of some packaging for example.

Which artistic tool could you least do without?
Pen and paper.

What’s the most well-thumbed book in your studio?
Lots of books about the body.

Do you pin up images of other artists’ works?
No. However, we have a collection of artworks by other artists in our hallway and staircase, which is painted black instead of white. Mostly it’s art from friends. Sophie Calle once gave us these wonderful prints with stories on them, one about a penis dedicated to Ingar and one about a nose dedicated to Michael.

Do you cook in the studio? (Or what’s your typical studio lunch?)
The whole team eats lunch together every day. We have a cook who comes in and makes delicious food for us.

What do you listen to while you’re working?
If it’s not the sounds coming from the workshop (drilling, sanding, sawing…) or the new dance school that’s just moved in next door, then it’s usually rather quiet.

What do you usually wear while you’re working?
T-shirts and jeans – and after work we wear the same.

The Painter, Fig. 1 (2021), Elmgreen & Dragset.

The Painter, Fig. 1 (2021), Elmgreen & Dragset. Photo: Elmar Vestner; courtesy Pace Gallery

Do you ever sleep in your studio?
Yes. But not with each other any longer.

Who’s the most interesting visitor you’ve had to your studio?
We have had many wonderful guests throughout the 16 years we’ve had the studio. Robert Wilson celebrated his 70th birthday at our studio. Patti Smith came by once. We mostly discussed Wagner with her.

Is anything (or anyone) banned?
Occasionally a bird flies into the main space as there are so many windows. We usually gently escort them straight out.

‘Elmgreen & Dragset: The Nervous System’ is at Pace, New York, from 10 November–18 December.

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