Happy Days in the Art World, Tramway, Glasgow
Wednesday 26 October 2011
Previewing in Glasgow before its premiere proper at New York's Performa biennial next week, this piece by the Danish-Norwegian conceptual art duo Elmgreen & Dragset blurs the line between performance art and theatre.
Joseph Fiennes, working with the pair again after his appearance in 2008's Drama Queens with Kevin Spacey at the Old Vic, teams with Charles Edwards to play a surrogate version of the duo named, rather pointedly, Id and Me. The pair awaken on bunk beds in a darkened space, wearing identical black suits and white shirts, and with no memory of where they are or what they did the night before.
Me, timid and unwilling to risk stepping off the bed, remembers dreaming of Berlin, where they were waiting for a Ukrainian oligarch's wife to drive across Poland in her pink Porsche and buy everything in their studio. Id, cocky and dangerously bold, strides off into the darkness and finds a lever, pulling it to illuminate the large, broken exit sign towering behind them. It appears the pair have been absorbed into one of their own gallery exhibits.
Under the direction of Toby Frow and with advice from Tim Etchells, the artists, working as scriptwriters and set designers, have created a piece which takes as one of its inspirations Sarah Thornton's book Seven Days in the Art World, and it's the snarky, in-jokey insights into being a successful middle-aged duo of contemporary artists which ring most entertainingly true. "If one of us dies, the other won't be worth anything," complains one. "You can't sack me for serving no purpose – that's what artists do," whines the other.
The central performances lend a touch of class to the piece, and an air of arch camp which reflects The Odd Couple blended with Gilbert & George, with some deft and subtle physical comedy from Fiennes. Perhaps the tone of this preview hasn't quite been settled, but there are one too many overplayed jokes, Kim Criswell's blind and robotic delivery woman who ends the piece crooning U2's "One" serving both to amuse and to confuse.
The Godot-ish final touch, though, with the pair left awaiting a visit from Guggenheim curator Nancy Spector, points vividly to the lonely hope of the studio-bound artist.
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