Books inspiration for major new exhibition at Prague’s Kunsthalle

Elmgreen & Dragset: READ

Books and libraries are the inspiration for READ, a major new exhibition of works by international and domestic artists at the Kunsthalle Praha gallery. READ is curated by the Berlin-based Scandinavian art duo Elmgreen & Dragset, who also have several of their own pieces in the colourful show. At a press preview I caught up with Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset.

Elmgreen & Dragset | Photo: Claire Dorn,  Kunsthalle Praha

Dragset: “We’ve always been fascinated by books and it was an inspirational source for us, throughout our practice, philosophy and literature.”

What’s your own relationship to books? Do you need to have a paper copy or are you satisfied with e-books?

Elmgreen: “It’s absolutely important to have the book as material in this time when we see books being banned around the world. It would be far too easy to erase them just with a click in a digital version. So at least it’s more difficult to carry the stacks of books out of public libraries.”

The exhibition has some Czech connections. What are they?

Dragset: “Of course we have used the collection of Kunsthalle Praha as a starting point. Here you also have several Czech artists, such as Pavel Büchler for instance. We have a site specific new work by Jaro Varga that’s interactive – people can come and write on his installation; they can write new titles on the book spines.”

Tell us about the section of “unborrowed books” – what’s that all about?

Dragset: “Unborrowed Books is an ongoing project by an artist from Istanbul living in Stockholm, Meric Algun. She collaborated with the Municipal Library in Prague and got all the books that have never, ever been lent.”

Elmgreen & Dragset: READ | Photo: Vojtěch Veškrna,  Kunsthalle Praha

Also you have a section of banned books, from Florida. Why from Florida?

Elmgreen: “In Florida the current governor [DeSantis] decided that it would add to his popular vote to give local boards free hands to ban certain book titles that they were afraid their children would encounter. So we have a display of the 50 most banned books in the state of Florida.”

What kind of books are they? I was looking at the collection and they don’t look so “dangerous” or controversial to me.

Dragset: “Also not to us. We were quite shocked to see the list, which includes even books by someone like Toni Morrison.”

You also have a kind of reading room. What’s going to be happening there?

Elmgeen: “We will have five young male-identifying persons coming in three days a week and writing their daily journals: their thoughts, their dreams, what they have been doing the night before. And that’s kind of a masking of masculine identity, which we have been doing since 2003. We’ve done it in places like Paris, Hong Kong, Istanbul and Dallas, so it’s a kind of a world mapping of young male identity.”

Elmgreen & Dragset | Photo: Claire Dorn,  Kunsthalle Praha

You were saying earlier that visitors to the exhibition will find surprising things. Could you give us some flavour of what kind of a visitor might find, if they are very observant?

Elmgreen: “Well, in between the bookshelves in the main hall, which really looks like a library, you will suddenly find a little book nest with a broken egg – and a tiny little book that is titled How to Become a Bird.”

Elmgreen & Dragset: READ
Kunsthalle Praha
Klárov 132/5
Prague 1
16.11.2023 to 24.4.2024