Numéro art: Let’s start with your intervention in Paris during the FIAC. More than 100 star sh—life-size sculptures—took over the Place Vendôme. Has nature reclaimed its rights?
Michael Elmgreen: We wanted to create an image worthy of a science ction lm: the Seine ooded the square and left star sh in its wake. These creatures are a bit like aliens or gentle intruders. In ancient times, star sh were thought of as the underwater re ection of the stars in the skies. They also have an enormous survival instinct. You can cut off all of its arms and a star sh will grow them back.
Afterwards, the work was installed in the Domaine de l’Etang near Angoulême...
Ingar Dragset: Whether in the middle of the city or in the middle of nature at the Domaine, this work re ects larger environmental issues. Were the star sh brought here by an ecological catastrophe or a tidal wave? Did humanity disappear to let nature take over? The original choice of Paris was not neutral. We’ve witnessed the Seine ooding rsthand over the last few years. The city also welcomed the COP 21—which Trump refused to sign.
After Paul McCarthy’s giant dildo or Oscar Tuazon’s imposing structures, your place Vendôme intervention is almost minimalist.
M.E.: Everything in the Place Vendôme is impressive. Its monumentality and even its column are expressions of power. We wanted to counteract that with a horizontal, less macho work. Something more approachable that people can reach out and touch.
Power, and the way it’s symbolically incarnated in structures – especially architecture, hierarchies, and thought patterns –, has always been at the heart of your work. You’ve just opened a huge show at London’s Whitechapel Gallery that includes several of your iconic pieces.
M.E.: Whitechapel’s upper oor welcomes a kind of retrospective of our work. Our sculptures of the little boy fascinated by a weapon hanging on the wall and the other little boy crouched in a chimney are there. Most of our work questions toxic masculinity. As children, our education encourages certain behaviors. We expect little boys to play with toy guns and be fascinated by rearms. It isn’t said often enough that men are responsible for 99,9% of gun violence. It’s a masculine problem. And when the little boy doesn’t follow the expectations of his parents—of society—he suffers, feels guilty, and refuges himself in the chimney.
“The church asks us to suffer and feel guilty in the presence of the crucified Jesus, but here the act is voluntary.”