The parallel exhibition they’re mounting at Massimo De Carlo, titled “Stigma,” is a revival of the one they showed in the gallery’s Milan space over the summer. It’s comprised of a series of hand-blown glass vases, each filled with the same medical-grade pigments used for coating the pills of HIV-related medicines in enticing pastel colors—peach, pink, pistachio, baby blue. When the option arose to mount both shows simultaneously, they decided to tie the two together, broadening the platform for pushing these challenging issues back into public discourse. “Now that you don’t die from it anymore, the media lost interest and nobody talks about it,” Dragset says. “The public discussions around PrEP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis) brought about a lot of memories, both of art from the ’90s and the time you came out in the ’80s, and of the AIDS crisis. It just felt like a time to redress some of these issues.”
The two shows come at a time when the U.K. is encountering an upsurge of HIV, despite the subject rarely surfacing in the news—save for one recent scandal in the U.S. of the egregious ex-hedge funder who bought the patent rights to Daraprim, a drug used for treating AIDS patients, and spiked the prices overnight from $13.50 to $750 per pill.
Though the vases at Massimo De Carlo resemble funerary urns, and the wall labels at Victoria Miro invoke the works of numerous art historical icons, neither are meant to be taken literally. The mixing of fact and fiction, lived experiences with imagined ones, recurs throughout their work—and manifests in their concurrent shows through an engagement with memory and an attempt to find meaning in nostalgia. According to Elmgreen & Dragset, moments of misunderstanding are just as important as moments of clarity as they continue to challenge notions of “universal truths.”