I’m tempted, by way of a review, to leave this page blank. After all I don’t want to be too directive. I’d like to feel that you, the reader, are free to make whatever contribution you consider appropriate. All you need do is apply your imagination. Come on; I’m sure you can do it if you try. The possibilities are endless and as valid as anything I might come up with surely? What’s the point of bothering to spend all day putting a review together when you can write anything you want? Who needs critics? Who needs artists anyway? After all skill is so passé.
Ryan Gander’s Artangel project is called Locked Room Scenario. The Chester born Ryan first grabbed art-world attention with his Loose Associations originally performed at the Rijksakdaemie in Amsterdam, when he was a student there in 2002. His talk took circuitous routes through “desire lines” (imaginary paths across public spaces) to imagining fake furniture and, even more esoteric, Christine Keeler’s Connection to Homer Simpson. His Alchemy Boxes contained models of work by other artists, as well as personal items including Truffaut DVD covers and books. His output has been, to say the least, eclectic and idiosyncratic: drawings, sculpture, films and customised sportswear, a chess set, jewellery and a children’s book have all been spawned by his copious imagination. He describes himself as a storyteller. His work is spun from the personal and the cultural in a complex web of narratives and subplots. It’s as if he is aiming to become the Jorge Luis Borges of the visual art world, leaving us clues where ever he goes. It’s not surprising to learn that he has a passion for Inspector Morse and Sherlock Holmes.
When I arrive at an unprepossessing modern industrial warehouse in the mean streets of Islington, London, just between fashionable Wharf Road – where the exclusive galleries Victoria Miro and Parasol Unit reside – and the canal, I’m met at the gate by an invigilator with a list of names and am checked in. I ask where the exhibition is and he waves his arm vaguely. I enter the building and find a young couple sitting on the stairs listening to their i-pod and wonder if they’re part of the exhibition. I ask, but they don’t reply.
The smell of old office carpet permeates the building and it’s very dark. I turn right down a white painted corridor with a grey painted floor and encounter some blue cinema ropes, the sort that cordon off celebrities from the hoi polloi at film openings, and walk into more empty office space. The building has obviously been abandoned by its previous inhabitants for something more appealing. I wander, rather lost, through a maze of corridors and shabby rooms still expecting to come upon some art work. I poke through piles of abandoned junk mail and old post and I’m still looking for the exhibition when it dawns on me that this is it. I come to a door where the glass partition has been concealed with sheets of newspaper so I can’t see through it. There is a light on inside. I peer in. There is a gallery bench and I can hear a projector clicking away. The projector is throwing patches of white light onto the wall in the corridor. They might be anything: a vase or a breast, or they might just be patches of white light. Through another small internal window, the glass reinforced with wire, is a room I can’t reach lined with white tiles.
I make my way down another terribly dark corridor, worried I’ll trip over in the gloom, to find another locked door. I hope that I will be able to read my notes later as I can’t see anything I am writing. Beyond is an old office chair with a workman’s yellow waterproof slung on the back. Is this part of the exhibition or something I have just stumbled upon? On the seat are a newspaper and a pack of cigarettes. Painted in large letters on the wall above it says: London Newcastle Depot. I’ve no idea what this means. Is this location significant? Or simply the place where the caretaker goes for his tea break? I’m now completely lost both physically and aesthetically.
In another space there seems to be an exhibition of sorts but it’s hard to tell whether or not it’s over. The press release lying in a discarded pile on the floor tells me that Kimberling Gallery ‘is delighted to present the work of seven artists whose significance to the development of European Conceptualism has been hugely overlooked in recent years. Field of Meaning brings together key works by Spencer Anthony, Mary Aurory, Rose Duvall etc. etc.’ The supposed show includes lots of worthy looking text that I’m not inclined to read. By this stage I don’t really care very much and the artists have probably been invented anyway. And I’ve never heard of the curator, the androgynous sounding, Marsh Tinley. Offstage I can hear voices and the names Mike Nelson and Martin Creed whispered from somewhere I can’t identify and realise that I’m probably suppose to understand this whole thing as some sort of wry comment, full of arcane in-jokes, on contemporary art. I think of Martin Creed’s notorious light going on and off, and the pretentious theatrical pieces devised by Tinho Segal. On the whole this is territory – one full of clues, double meanings and non sequiturs – that is so much better covered by writers such as Paul Auster.
I wander round some more and wonder if the fire extinguishers and array of plugs and power points on the wall are part of the work. After all there are plenty of metaphors I can think of for both extinguishers and plugs, so why not? And does it matter anyway? The boundaries between ‘art’ and ‘reality’ are blurred to the point of confusion. Should I care?
I wander outside and stand in the windblown yard among the weeds and bits of drifting paper. In one corner is a skip full of builders litter and old palettes. Only a rather incongruous, and strategically placed, hairy blue nylon rug makes me realise this, too, is art. Locked Room Scenario claims to invite the viewer to adopt a detective’s approach to the available clues, scrutinise detail, and imagine what cannot be seen. Now that I’m in the day light I find that my notes, written in the dark, have dribbled down the page like a drunken spider and are barely legible. But then if this is about telling stories, about false clues and hiatuses, it shouldn’t really matter should it? The fact that my notes are mostly illegible is just another consequence of the ‘work’.
As I leave it starts to rain and I’ve just missed the bus. It feels like a fitting end to a very down-beat morning. If art has become so insouciant, so minimal, so afraid of passion and engagement with difficult emotions and the real world does it really amount to more than a subculture for those in the know?
Ryan Gander Locked Room Scenario at Artangel from 30 August to 23 October 2011
Content and Texts © Sue Hubbard 2011
Images © Ryan Gander
Photography by Julian Abrams
Published in 3 Quarks Daily