Ryan Gander is pre-occupied with the perceived failure of Utopian Modernism. Gander’s childrens book The Boy Who Always Looked Up is an account of the final days of reviled Hungarian architect Erno Goldfinger, as told through the eyes of a young boy who lives in the shadow of his infamous Trellick Tower. Bauhaus Revisited is a chess set designed by Josef Hartwig in which the shape of each piece denotes it’s move, reproduced by Gander in blacklisted Zebrawood from the African rainforest – it’s never been put back into production after it was seized by the Nazis.
And it really does permeate throughout his whole entry, from his advertisement inserted in the catalogue calling for 15 writers to contribute chapters to a collaborative novel called The Grand National to be released under the name Keiran Aagard (death of the author indeed) to his insistence that the invigilator of the gallery read (presumably his own) well-thumbed copy of News From Nowhere by commited Socialist William Morris, one of the key English novels on the theme of utopia, I guess in the vien of Maurizio Cattelan’s dealer taped to his gallery wall, A Perfect Day, but without the caustic humour. You could imagine maybe Gander just really wanted people to read the book. I asked the invigilator how he was finding it.
“It’s tough.”
I asked him how strict his instructions were, and if he had been marking his place with a finger when he wasn?t reading it; the placard above his head said he should be. He said he hadn’t.
“I’m not sure how comfortable I feel being part of this guy’s work.”
“Why’s that?”
“I haven’t got the commitment to the work.” I wasn’t sure what commitment was needed, beyond reading a book all day.
“I’m a performance artist myself.”
“You feel that having been co-opted by this artist that…” he started nodding, and made a squirming motion with his arms.
“An awkward fit?” I said.
“Exactly.” He tentatively suggested that his objection, or discomfort, was a “political thing”. I wasn’t sure what he meant. He was eager to estabilish that he didn’t have “some big political thing” about the work, only a “little political thing”.
“It’s also an economic thing. I can charge fifty quid for a performance.” His day job is invigilating, not performing. I asked if he thought Gander had considered how individual invigilators could effect a person’s reception of his work, prone as they are to being badgered by people like me. The invigilator thought that he hadn’t, and bemoaned the fact that he’d not met the man – it’s ICA policy for their staff to meet the artists who are showing. The invigilator was on holiday when Gander was here.
“He’s a conceptual artist with no concept of the repercussions of his work.” I think this was probably unfair – I reckon Gander planned this element of chance, an actual live variable in a practise bursting to the seams with stories of odd and poignant historical junctions and missteps.