I WRITE SCRIPTS TO SERVE AS SKELETONS AWAITING THE FLESH AND SINEW OF IMAGES. – Ingmar Bergman
Scandinavian artist duo Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset present a site-specific installation for the former Textile gallery at the V&A, whereby the audience becomes director, character and detective. Entering TOMORROW, you are greeted by the butler of Norman Swann, tutor of architecture at Cambridge University, invited into Norman’s Kensington apartment and told to pick up a small bound book – a script which you’ll find yourself wholly absorbed by for the next hour or so.
On a Sunday afternoon, the exhibition was quiet – incredibly busy but soundless, aside from the occasional chime of the grand piano in Norman’s bedroom – as each visitor’s head is firmly bowed, reading the script intently. Visitors..audience members…performers (?) wander from one room to the next as the script dictates a scene change, never looking up from the page unless it draws attention to a certain item – a discarded magazine, a burnt out cigar, a bottle of Armagnac.
Elmgreen and Dragset’s script denotes a single night in 2013, Norman’s 75th birthday and the night that Daniel Wilder, a former pupil, turns up at his apartment unexpectedly – bringing a waitress back to his new ‘city gaff’ having recently purchased the flat from Norman, now a bankrupt retiree. TOMORROW is humorous yet tragic, and presents three well-rounded characters who are alternately detestable and endearing – human in fact.
The exhibition is a collaboration between Elmgreen and Dragset and the V&A Museum itself, as Norman’s home is comprised of items from the Museum’s collection and artworks from the pair. There is no divide, however, between art and antiquity – instead the works sit together fluidly as the set for TOMORROW, with bizarre additions highlighting aspects of the story. Elmgreen and Dragset appear to trust their audience to a point, yet illustrate the most complex ideas through sculpture – a small boy in wax, his eyelashes touching bruised knees, or a gaping crack through an enormous ivory table – these jarring interruptions signify trauma and forecast some sort of higher meaning to this at first trivial seeming script, set in a night of gin and prune juice, and takeaway pizza.
The five room installation is packed with details to explain and contradict the narrative, and misses nothing in looking like a lived-in Kensington apartment; impressive, bearing in mind that Norman has lived here his entire life. Although each room is equally detailed and fascinating for it, the juxtaposition between the lives of the young architect and his mentor is blatantly portrayed within the kitchen: a shining metallic monstrosity has been installed in place of Norman’s old kitchen suite, and faces the old man’s study, a beige room filled with limp piles of forgotten architectural drawings, a defunct computer, a scowling taxidermy vulture. It is here that Norman’s investment in his career is at its most upsetting, and reaching this point in the script is where we find the most ill feeling for the successful Daniel.
TOMORROW is a script which takes no prisoners; it throws its audience literally into the home and life of Norman Swann and if you, equally, dive into that small bound book headfirst and follow its directions without reservation, then you’re likely to leave the exhibition rather bewildered but fulfilled.
A beautiful new approach to performance.