At Whitechapel, there’s a pool masquerading as a pool – abandoned. Cracked tiles, a small pile of leaves and a changing room door all tell a story we don’t know we’re reading about what this space is. On the wall is a text in the spirit of expository labels we’re used to seeing in rooms like this one (an expectation which has just been confounded by walking into a gallery and finding something more like a leisure centre) explaining a work of art and listing its materials and/or creation story. It’s also reminiscent of the plaques which pop up in shared spaces, detailing the history of a building and its sponsors; this one is headed ‘Public Notice’, and footed with corporate logos. Tower Hamlets, CL Architects and Desert Flower Art Hotel and Resort Corporation have all contributed to the pool’s story, we infer. Its ‘Short History’ is probably 400 words long, and takes us from an ostensible opening in 1901, through its heyday in the 70s and David Hockney’s supposed depiction of it in his most famous works, to its abandonment in 1987 before being sold under Boris Johnson’s tenure as Mayor in 2016. Now, it’s been acquired for development by GenTri Investment. Has it?
Artist duo Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset are behind the ruse, as they are responsible for the exhibition continuing upstairs. Characteristically imbued with black humour and inquisitive profundity, This Is How We Bite Our Tongue runs until January 13th and represents their first major appearance in London since Powerless Structures sat on Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth in 2012. Below, we discuss found objects, narrative threads – and disrupting curatorial nonsense with laughter.