Text by Charles Danby
There were momentary points of sensory poetic and visual intrigue within Ryan Gander’s Locked Room Scenario, the optical slightness of a darkened corridor that led to an unwitting approach of ones own shadow in a space indeterminate in scale, direction and makeup. Here there was an overwhelming sense that the ceiling was narrowing like an all too familiar cinematic illusion. Odd shafts of light, such as the thrown-back light of a slide projector, were all that illuminated the environment. The scenario was entirely compelling.
Added to this there were plenty of locked doors, a number of which flanked a (or the) locked room. The locked room was circumvented by a network of constructed and altered corridors that disclosed varying views of the entombed artworks (or further props within an artwork), the vistas becoming more explicit as further routes were navigated. But such disclosure led to little, the glimpsed ‘supposed artworks’ when seen most clearly echoed with little more than the familiar. A large obtusely figurative amorphous (Yves Kline blue) fabric clad sculpture, a heavily designed wooden lectern with formal propped image arrangements. These were regular Gander artworks pretending through conceit not to be, and through a transparency of that conceit to be again – but as something else (perhaps). Ultimately that something else was not so much elusive as not necessarily that interesting, and perhaps it was that lack that ultimately appeared underwhelming.
Gander’s works are connective, in spatial proximity and across time, works are connected to other works through undisclosed and occasionally ungraspable logics. Single strands (and one line jokes) multiplied, cross-fed and interwoven, parts easily unpicked, parts easily missed. It is this methodology that was here transformed to the physical world, to be played out through the wandering of the viewer, their situation of experience also being the work. The work was an arena to be explored, with each encountered door as readily leading somewhere as nowhere. Within this the disparity between the constructed elements and the manipulations of existing aspects of the building created fault lines that perhaps highlight and reflect where the translation between the methodologies that Gander ordinarily utilises to link detached autonomous artworks failed to match with those that, in this case, propose to link stage with environment as artwork.
Gander’s works propose (through the vehicle of narrative) that there are certain logics to be ‘got’, in someway understood (even if the dislodging of this notion is what Gander might ultimately be interested in). In ‘getting’, which in itself may be no more than witnessing or experiencing, Gander solicits a sense of missing. For Gander the emperor’s clothes are both new and worn through. In the case of the Locked Room Scenario the tropes and artworld plays are apparent, all too predictable, all too internalised. A disused warehouse in a slightly (but not too much) out of the way location. A pile of mixed sized post and packages sent to the address (addressed to the fictional artists of the exhibition at the fictional gallery of its running – perhaps but not necessarily connecting to the St Martin’s art school project that the title appears to assume). A printed timeline contextualising the conceit of the fictional artists, their interaction with artworld events and artists. Within this timeline photographs of the artists appear in customary documentary monochrome, Gander exposing the mythologies of documentation within art historical heritage. Unravelling ideas through multiple fractures is an active part of Gander’s strategy. On a postcard stand, the ‘artworks’ seen only in glimpses were revealed as printed postcard images, set to standard museum fare. The amorphous blue structure (in the postcard) is seen with a cardboard sign that reads, ‘If I was monochrome I would be better appreciated’.
Characters, amateur or otherwise actors were also present, mixing, obstructing and discretely disclosing narratives. Polite graffiti on a side and back wall, and a skip filled with the waste material, a prominence of blue felt fabric, were further staged vignettes within the expansive tableau, but their transparency seemed only to add to an overstretched signposting of a constructed conceit rather than offer further dimension to it.
The St Martin’s Locked Room (1969) was about an empty space, a space not for the problematic clutter of rhetoric or expectation but a space for extracting underlying issues through time, activity and community. While such sentiment has permeated art schools and subsequent studio practices its flipside arguably lies in a counter point of circular return, a leaning on the past, a construction of fiction from a point of empty vacuum in lieu of a concrete present.
Where Gander’s strength is best deployed in the Locked Room Scenario is in the small (non narrative) material details of composition, choreography and construction rather than in its overall logic or outcome. In many ways the overall is a distraction from the parts and fragments. The moments of intrigue are those that articulate and celebrate materials and ideas rather than those that over-expose them or unwittingly enforce their separation.
Ryan Gander Locked Room Scenario, Londonnewcastle Depot, London
30 August – 23 October
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Locked Room Scenario – Ryan Gander
Photographer Julian Abrams
Commissioned and produced by Artangel with the support of Londonewcastle and the Lisson Gallery