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the one & the many

This summer's exhibition by Elmgreen and Dragset in the Rotterdam Onderzeebootloods (Submarine Wharf), titled 'The One & The Many', uses the gigantic space of the wharf to create an bleak and broken-down cityscape of the kind glimpsed in British social realist films. (Andrea Arnold's 'Red Road' and 'Fish Tank' particularly come to mind.) At once familiar and warped, the artists' dystopian vision encompasses an entire, almost lifesize apartment building, a ferris wheel, a desolate parking lot with a stretch limo on blocks - it even includes loitering kids in hoodies and trainers, a teenage mother arguing on her cell phone and other extras.

The One & The Many - 1

This "sad tale of what happened to public space", as the artists put it in an accompanying video lecture, contains an amazing wealth of detail to explore by voyeuristically looking into the different apartments and the lives of quiet desperation inside. In one apartment there's football on the telly and a table full of empty beer bottles. In another a boy lies on his bed while his open laptop displays a chatsite. (You can even look up the chat text in the exhibition's newspaper.) And apparently different live performances with actors take place throughout the week.

The One & The Many - 2

For all its criticism on the demise of public space as a symptom of a dysfunctional society, 'The One & The Many' leaves a lot of room for alternative, more humorous and less gloomy narratives. What, for instance, is a ferris wheel doing in this urban wasteland if not cheering up its inhabitants? Or who does the limo belong to, and do any of the apartments contain a clue that its inhabitant might be the owner? And so forth, from a voyeuristically passive spectator (the many?) to a more active and imaginative director (the one?) of possible realities.

In the end, then, most interesting is how the work's frayed edges make you question what exactly is and isn't part of it. Are the security guys part of it? Are they art, or just security guys? And what about those people you thought were visitors, do they live here? If 'The One & The Many' is effective, this pleasantly disorienting way of looking at the world will linger for a bit after exiting.

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