At Boijmans: The One and the Many

The former Submarine Wharf in the Port of Rotterdam is a 15-minute ride by the Aqualiner water bus, traveling away from the city centre and into the heart of the port. The water bus deposits you at the RDM complex, which is not a very promising destination if you’re on your own on an overcast day and not quite sure how you will get back to where you came from.

See what I mean…?

The Museum Boijmans and the Port of Rotterdam have started a partnership under the terms of which (just love that grammatical construct) the Boijmans will use the former submarine wharf for art installations every summer until 2014. The project launched last summer with a show called Infernopolis by the Rotterdam-based Atelier Van Lieshout. I didn’t actually see that show because, well, I saw the photos and didn’t feel that mutilated bodies and other images of a Dantesque hell were what I was looking for at the time.

This year, the Norwegian-Danish artist partnership, Elmgreen & Dragset, have brought their ideas to the huge space where submarines were once built. The result is The One and the Many, which could well be read as another kind of hell, but one that is a little closer to the contemporary experience. Click here for an interesting 7-minute video of the artists explaining what inspires them and the thinking behind this show.

To enter the installation, you go through a tunnel made from a huge metal tube. The photo below shows the exterior of the tunnel.

The interior walls of the tunnel are defaced with graffiti and at one point, you come across a very realistic, dimly lit ATM and on the floor below it, a baby left in a cot. Initially startled, I was very relieved to realize it was a doll. You continue and soon emerge from the tunnel into a huge, dimly lit space. In front of you, there is an apartment building, several floors high, equipped with an intercom, elevator and internal stairways. A very realistic replica of one of those completely anonymous blocks built in the 60s or 70s to house as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, and preferably out of sight.

Or is it a replica? The lights are on in the windows and you can hear music and voices. I had no idea what was going on so I cautiously approached the windows and peered into rooms that looked as if the occupant had just stepped out and would be back any minute to pick up the activity they had left off. Mostly watching TV, actually. Rounding the corner of the building, you emerge into a large square where people are sitting, standing, walking around. Some of them I recognize as other visitors, some might be museum staff, but what about that young couple with a pram, seated together on a concrete bench? There is a stripped-down limousine jacked up on rests, an old-fashioned Ferris wheel straight out of an amusement ground, rubbish, a public toilet you would go far to avoid. What is going on here?

In this interview, the Director of Boijmans explains a little bit about the collaboration with the Port of Rotterdam as well as his own experience of the installation.

Elmgreen & Dragset are also behind another art event in Rotterdam. This one was launched on May 28 and will continue for a year. It’s called It’s never too late to say sorry. I haven’t actually seen it yet as I couldn’t find it the day I was looking for it, but having watched this little video clip of the event, I now know where and, crucially, when to look for it.

Elmgreen & Dragset have also won the 2012 commission for the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square in London. If you’re there next year, keep an eye out for Powerless Structures. It is a statue of a boy on a rocking horse, which seems a humorous and subversive decoding of the historical heroes and warlike horses on the other plinths in the square.

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