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Interview with Ryan Gander

London-based conceptual artist Ryan Gander masters the art of storytelling through an immensely complex yet subtly coherent body of work. In the short time since Gander graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University (1999), Jan van Eyck Akademie, Maastricht (2000) and Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam (2002) his work has been shown in the most enviable institutions worldwide: the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2010), Manifesta 8, Murcia, Spain (2010), Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2009), Miami Art Museum, Miami (2009), MACBA, Spain (2009) and New Museum, New York (2009).

 

His early works took the form of lecture/performances delivered to the public , establishing himself as an interactive artist. While his multimedia practice encompasses a vast array of forms, interweaving elements of architecture, design, sculpture and city planning, as well as children’s books, language and performance, all of his works revolve around the nature of art and objects. The misleadingly minimalist appearance of Gander’s world disguises a complex network of tangled narratives. Each one of his objects may act as a vessel for a new story that collectively fit into a greater system in which fictions and realities collide.

 

The latest challenge for Gander is a public installation in Central Park, with future ones including building a real estate/art project, designing a first class airline cabin and releasing a work of pop music. He confesses that he ‘frequently elaborates, exaggerates and lies which, in turn, makes it difficult for him to remember where things began and differentiate between fact and fiction’.

 

Q

The White Review

— Le Corbusier and Gerrit Rietveld are very important in your work. Can you discuss your relationship with their work and with their personalities?

A

Ryan Gander

— There are many things that are important to my work. You could say that dance is important, or that script writing is important or fictional futures. There are literally hundreds of subjects and also a multitude of ways in which works evolve into real things in the world, so let’s not only focus on design. I am interested in stories, and in the way that objects can act as vessels for these stories, and relate to important twentieth century designer-architects. I have admired their output, however there are other people’s outputs I admire much more. I am not quoting them because I am a fan or because I want to associate myself with their causes or interests. I just like certain aspects of their lives at a singular moment in time.

Q

The White Review

—   Exhibited in Central Park, The Happy Prince (2010) is your first public installation. You have said that you ‘always avoided making work that is connected with notions of ‘the public’ or a ‘non-art’ audience. The idea of public art makes you] think of terrible sculptures on roundabouts’.

A

Ryan Gander

— About two years ago, I became a little disillusioned with art. It began to seem a little easy for me. The institution is a little safe, when you have studied and experimented within its confines for such an amount of time. It becomes easy to second-guess how things will turn out. You become fluent in its language and articulation, and soon enough you start to know how words will sound before you utter them. So, I am embarking on a series of challenges I have set for myself and public art was the first. It had to do with producing a public artwork about the nature of public art, which would discuss the value of art in public spaces and to a given public. I think The Happy Prince achieves this, so I am happy. But it was nice to be in a situation where I wasn’t sure if it would be successful or without knowing what a certain public response would be. So I try different things. A new screenplay is absorbing most of my time.

Q

The White Review

— As a ruined monument, is The Happy Prince an expression of your dislike for public art – did you derive satisfaction from its ruin?

A

Ryan Gander

— No. It’s an exercise in imagination. It’s how I imagine the final scene of the book If the sculpture has to represent anything, it represents a similar concern to the book – that value in art is more closely linked to cause, idea and intent, as opposed to appearance.

Q

The White Review

— You have said that your work is not romantic. How can it not be, when you decided to use Oscar Wilde’s story?

A

Ryan Gander

— No, I have said it is romantic and poetic. Although now, I question it, I think it has more to do with looking at romanticism rather than being romantic.

Q

The White Review

— Could you tell us about the piece We never had a lot of $ around here (2010) and why you chose to exhibit it in relation to the library project?

A

Ryan Gander

— Gluing a coin to the floor and fixing a wallet to the floor are both April Fools’ jokes my father taught me. The work in the library hints at objects traveling through time from the past… The coin is from the future to offset that idea. The conceptual distance and diversity between the two works is a quality. When positioning a work, it is important to derive a dislocation to avoid a didactic reading, the jump and the spectators’ ability to follow that jump and re-evaluate their relationships to the work produce a more interesting experience. Self-curating is like a behavioural science to me and I very much enjoy it.

Q

The White Review

— Could you please tell us when you stopped using the real facts of the argument between Mondrian and Van Doesburg in order to create your own story/work for your installation for the Aye Simon Reading Room at the Guggenheim (Intervals, 2011)?

A

Ryan Gander

— No I can’t. But it is a fantastic question. I can’t tell you for several reasons. Firstly, because it could ruin or compromise the intention of the work for those who haven’t experienced it. Secondly, because it is your role to work that out, not mine to hand all the answers to the reading on a silver platter. And thirdly, because I make a lot of work and I frequently elaborate, exaggerate and lie which, in turn, makes it difficult for me to remember where things began and differentiate between fact and fiction. My father always told me one should never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

Q

The White Review

— Why did you choose to show a fake ‘crime scene’? Meaning, if Mondrian and Théo had argued in a Wright house, fragments and residue of their struggle would have been discovered outside, not in the area where the struggle took place.

A

Ryan Gander

— It wasn’t a crime. They had no control over where they were going. Time portals frequently jump in rapid successions: they fell through his house into the Guggenheim. The actual argument originated in Café Aubette, I think; and they fell through the front of it into the portal, you see?

Q

The White Review

— Bas Jan Ader has worked on the dogmatism of de Stijl, and the argument between Mondrian and Theo von Doesburg for Broken Fall (Geometric) (1970) or Primary Time (1974). Would you say that he and his work are important to you?

A

Ryan Gander

— Yes, he is immensely important — the myth and the mystic as much as the practice.

Q

The White Review

— One of your books is entitled In a Language You Don’t Know. Are you interested in glossolalia, speaking in tongues and constructed languages?

A

Ryan Gander

— No, the title was stolen from a song lyric by a religious band called Low. I used it because it sounded good. There are also aesthetic decisions sometimes, as long as they appear when the spectator least expects them.

Q

The White Review

— Pierre Bismuth explained me that in his work he rarely tries to go beyond the anecdotal. In your work a lot of ideas are developed from anecdotal situations or facts. Could you please talk about how you relate to anecdotes?

A

Ryan Gander

— I don’t think I am interested in anecdotes. I would hope my work is more expansive or ‘multiplicit’ (that is not a word but it should be). An objective is that the work has more end points than starting points — like a 1970s children’s ‘Choose your own adventure story’Anecdotes don’t do that.

Q

The White Review

— When you were asked the question: ‘What notions of time are particularly important to you?’, you answered: ‘Future History’. What would you say to Jack Goldstein’s statement: ‘Art should be a trailer for the future’?

A

Ryan Gander

—  I wasn’t talking about art, I was talking about the world. ‘Art should be a trailer for the future’ is a very simplistic idea. I was talking about the Future History of everything but art.

Q

The White Review

— Wim Wenders says that science-fiction movies bother him because the morality of the imagined future is the morality of the time contemporary to the movie creation. In the image of a pillow placed in a contemporary chair by Konstantin Grcic, the idea of comfort prevails. Or was it intended to show that everything is deteriorating and that such minimal and uncomfortable objects are inevitably ‘damaged’ visually when naturally reverting to a state of comfort?

A

Ryan Gander

— Yes, I know. It is for some reason easier to make an object function better, whilst appearing worse than it is, to make something, which has no reason to exist in the world look good.

Q

The White Review

— Could you expand upon your statement, ‘you know so little about the medium that the only thing that can happen is unexpected’?

A

Ryan Gander

— Well, as before, fluency breeds disinterest for me, so I am constantly looking for new forms, mediums and devices.

Q

The White Review

—  You have often stated that, in your work, forms can be less important than ideas. So, in the pyramid of things, ideas come before forms. Do you agree with David Lamelas when he states that ‘the form is not an end but a way to get somewhere’?

A

Ryan Gander

— Yes I do. But I also believe it can be an end if the concept requires it to be one, or that it doesn’t even necessarily have to exist if the concept requires it to. The sentence ‘the form is not an end but a way to get somewhere’ sounds like the cliché ‘never let the truth get in the way of a good story’. Clichés exist because they are easily understandable and can only be interpreted in a singular understanding. They become clichés by reaching popularity through consensus. I find them incredibly unhealthy for the imagination and they are the foundations of most of the terrible art that was produced in Britain in the early 1990s.

Q

The White Review

— In my opinion, it is better that artists formulate the ideas that they wish to express before finding the forms in which they ultimately develop these ideas. As Thomas Demand said, ‘the medium itself carries a boring context’. So, the form is not really a project in itself and, in the end, ‘the substance checks the activity of the mind’ (Jean-Luc Moulène). Why don’t we look at the world through the art rather than restricting our view to the forms depicted?

A

Ryan Gander

— I entirely agree with you! And actually, I’ve never heard it phrased so adequately and economically.

Q

The White Review

— The ground is the territory of gravity. The constraint imposed by gravity keeps us upright and lets us fall so that we can get up again. It is all about perpetual falling. The ground is the point from which things are ordered. Many of your works are simply placed on the ground — not placed on a podium or pedestal — which seems to me an important point. Why do you use this typology of presentation? Is it another way of avoiding giving importance to the forms, as if these objects were abandoned? Is the podium an area of power, competition, emphasis and authority? And by not using it, are you trying to elude these principles?

A

Ryan Gander

— Exactly, sometimes that is exactly the motivation. But you can also put a model on a table and it speaks of the unfinished or the unachievable; you can put a toy on the floor and it speaks of play and learning; you can put an aircraft on the floor and it does not speak of the discarded, the reduction of power or the invaluable. So it depends on what you are placing, how you place it, and who is looking at it, and when, where, etc. That’s my job. One million of these questions arise for every work produced, this is the fluency I spoke of earlier. This fluency is the trade of a good artist, I can guarantee that any question anyone else has logically posed about an artwork I have made, I have already asked it of myself. That’s my job: to know all this inside out, the cultural, historical, aesthetics, political, spatial, sociological, the approachability of the spectator. Everything is on a subconscious level, so the work communicates in a very concise definite way, without you having to ask every question.

Q

The White Review

— Are you interested in the idea of falling?

A

Ryan Gander

— Yes, very much, the idea is filed in my mind in the same folder as people holding their breath, people carrying other persons and people in uncontrollable laughter. Therefore I would never use more than one of these ideas within a single work. It is an unwritten rule.

Q

The White Review

— You have often talked about detecting things that not everybody picks up on. ‘I think of oxygen as a daily encounter, as a way of noticing things that other people wouldn’t necessarily notice: that’s the sort of energy I’m after. It’s the tiny phenomenon that happens around us all of the time’. Isn’t it the summary of the life of an artist and of his way of working? Can we link this with Duchamp’s view on objects?

A

Ryan Gander

— No, he had a singular view he could communicate. I am speaking of something that is a way of living, where you may pick up on a million different unrelated things in one day — that you cannot articulate, only recycle and evolve into new experiences. I only know a few artists in whose practice this is visible. The majority of artists have a single idea, at best a few, spread over an entire fifty-year practice.

Q

The White Review

— Are you always altering reality?

A

Ryan Gander

— No. Sometimes, I highlight something that exists. At other times I create things that are totally new. Sometimes, I collide things to produce an hybrid, and often I just sit and watch and don’t say or do anything.

Q

The White Review

— Do you think of Associative Photograph (2009) as a collage?

A

Ryan Gander

— No, I think that collages have permanence in their associative logic – i.e. the use of glue in the collision of meaning – so juxtaposition is fixed. Associative photographs uses pins, sticky tape or Blu-Tack, there is purposely a shadow around each article to suggest a temporality. The idea is that the spectator is allowed to daydream about meaning, to resist closure, and to increase possible associations with things in the images or in your own imaginative-archive.

Q

The White Review

— Do you think of Associative Template  and A Rumour of Rest (2006 )as a dé-collage, as shadows of images?

A

Ryan Gander

— I see all these works as tools to understand the way the human brain automatically deals with vast amounts of very complicated information. Using the internet is only one mode of navigating information. There is danger, because it is not the material that creates interesting new meaning and culture but the way in which, and the speed at which, the information is navigated.

Q

The White Review

— In what manner are you interested in the rumoured?

A

Ryan Gander

— I am very interested in it. I believe rumour is a better vessel for the art institution when used alongside it. And If I want you and the reader to think something, by the words I choose to use here, I am controlling that interpretation — with my arrogance, my humour, with my ambition to explain this multi-faceted urge I have. But a decent artist is in control of the language they are using and can jump between or choose to use multiple languages in a single work. A good artist is also in control of every form of communication. You think Gilbert and George would wear the same clothes as each other if they weren’t artists? Or that Maurizio Cattelan would be photographed as a spastic for a press image if he wasn’t? Or that Spartacus Chetwynd would have changed her name from Lali if she was not an artist? The only difference is that these people are interested in the public’s perception of themselves, whilst I am not. I am interested in the information I disseminate though a variety of channels.

Q

The White Review

— You were quoted as saying: ‘I’ve been thinking lately about the idea of a morally conscientious artist’. What came from these considerations?

A

Ryan Gander

— That terribly bad artists will forever walk over the backs of incredible ones, because they speak louder, have more money, know people in powerful places, etc. There is nothing new there, same old stuff.

Q

The White Review

— As my name is Tim, I have always been amused by A Future Lorem Ipsum (2006) – a black and white photograph depicting you attempting to show, with a mirror, how the newly invented word Mitim is a physical palindrome.

A

Ryan Gander

— Do you know that your name is an acronym for ‘The Man in the Iron Mask’?

Q

The White Review

— No. But I’m glad to learn this. Like Roland Barthes said, ‘the mask is the signification’. Are you interested in the idea of virginity with your Alchemy boxes, like Koons is with his Hoovers or his Jim Beam – JB Turner Train (1986)?

A

Ryan Gander

— I haven’t considered virginity. Obviously, I have considered trust. But my main preoccupation with them is that they are red herrings. I like that spectators look at the wrong thing. The art is in the content, which you can’t see; whilst the case or vessel is merely camouflage (or a mask, again!), because there are things that mean things and things that look like they mean things.

Q

The White Review

— How can a work be about childhood without becoming a work about nostalgia?

A

Ryan Gander

— By dislocating yourself from it? By making work about someone else’s childhood? By using references from the dictionary of visual language, so that it’s wording is not nostalgic?

Q

The White Review

— Your work is sometimes not frontal or photogenic (with a lot of details, or a long title), which makes the visibility of a work difficult in a publication. Is that what is at stake in your work?

A

Ryan Gander

— Only a few numbers of works are made for publications. You can identify them because they function well in that context – just as the works that function well in a lecture theatre are made for that context. When you translate or move things from one context to another, sometimes good things happen and sometimes bad things happen, but you do not know which it is, usually, until you try it.

Q

The White Review

— Could you please talk more about what you call ‘plop art’?

A

Ryan Gander

— I use that phrase for a work that is ill-considered in its positioning or contextuality. A work that is plopped suffers from being that way.

Q

The White Review

— How can one ensure that the text, the paratext placed on one side of a work, is not simply a teaching manual? Is it possible not to interfere with the work or to be more than just a singular interpretation of the work?
A

Ryan Gander

— You have to provide both options. It is unnecessarily cryptic without any information — the spectator must be left to choose on which level they engage. But it is important to remember that all forms of communication and all levels of transfusion are valid. In other words: you only think about what you see inside the frame because you are being framed yourself.
 

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ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

Ryan Gander is an English artist who lives and works between London and Suffolk. 

Timothée Chaillou is an independent art critic and curator. He is a member of AICA (International Association of Art Critics), of IKT (International Association of Curators of Contemporary Art), of CEA (Commissaires d'Exposition Associés) and of Société Française d'Esthétique. He is the editor in chief of Annual Magazine No 5.

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