Powerless Structures, Fig. 14 (Messages in Bottles), 1997

Photo: Courtesy the artists | © Bildrecht, Vienna, 2017 | Galleri Nicolai Wallner, Copenhagen
Photo: Courtesy the artists | © Bildrecht, Vienna, 2017 | Galleri Nicolai Wallner, Copenhagen

Two C-prints (shadow and splash)
98 x 154 cm each

In August 1997, curator Jacob Fabricius invited five artists to stay for a week on Middelgrundsfortet, a manmade desert island and old military fort between Denmark and Sweden. Elmgreen & Dragset spent the time creating 300 drawings that they then sealed in bottles and cast into the sea at specific times of day. Brought back into the gallery context, Powerless Structures, Fig. 14 is the only record of the performance, which was titled What is a Guy from Leicester, a Swedish girl, a Family Father, and a Gay Couple Doing on a Deserted Island between Denmark and Sweden?
By choosing to give away control of the work, the art process continues after the artists have transferred the work beyond the confines of the art institution or even of its own creation. The unknown destinations of the work, and for those who may find a bottle, the unknown history of it, are a key aspect of the piece. It is up to them to suppose why and where these objects were made, to ascribe meaning, just as all that is left for the viewers of these photographs is to imagine what they may have contained and where they may have ended up.
Started in 1997, “Powerless Structures” is an ongoing series of spatial interventions in which Elmgreen & Dragset destabilize the traditional art space and investigate the mechanism of ideological control that form it. The project’s title is inspired by Michel Foucault, “who said it’s absolutely wrong to speak about power structures because the structures themselves can’t impose any power in society; it’s only when we human beings agree upon these structures that they do, therefore they shouldn’t be called power structures. It wasn’t exactly what he meant, but ‘Powerless Structures,’ a full series of works over years, came out of it.”* (TBA21)
* Elmgreen & Dragset, “On Interpretation,” AnOther (October 9, 2012). http://www.anothermag.com/art-photography/2218/elmgreen-dragset-on-interpretation
ME: *1961 in Copenhagen, Denmark | Living and working in Berlin, Germany
​IG: *1969 in Trondheim, Norway | Living and working in Berlin, Germany