Ryan Gander: The Locked Room Scenario

Installation view of 'Locked Room Scenario' by Ryan Gander Installation view of 'Locked Room Scenario' by Ryan Gander - Commissioned and produced by Artangel with the support of Londonewcastle and the Lisson Gallery. Photo Julian Abrams
Posted: Tue Sep 6 2011

What's real and what's not in Ryan Gander's new art installation - a fascinating exercise in art and deduction? Time Out attempts to uncover the mystery of the 'Locked Room Scenario'

The most interesting aspect to author William Boyd's fake 1998 biography of American artist Nat Tate was not that the work was successfully presented as fact when Tate was a complete fiction. It was that there were people in the artworld who admitted to having known him. How much of that was a genuine belief (albeit faulty) that they might have actually met him is another interesting question. The mind can be highly open to suggestion and memory can be alarmingly unreliable.

There's a similar but far more layered weaving of fact and fiction in Ryan Gander's new Artangel produced project 'Locked Room Scenario'. Gander's art has always comes in many guises, from film, sculpture and performative lecture to children's books and clothing but a love of a complex narrative thread underpins much of it. This is his most ambitious creation yet, extending its reach beyond the boundaries of the gallery experience so that a text message or seemingly random encounter with a stranger (before or after your visit) could also be part of the work.

The scenario is basically an exhibition within an exhibition. Located in a Hoxton warehouse is a group show called 'Field of Meaning' by seven older generation artists called The Blue Conceptualists, among them Spencer Anthony, Mary Aurory, Aston Ernest and Santo Sterne. After arranging our visit (entry is times) we were able to wander round the corridors and ante-rooms but the doors into the room containing the artworks itself remain locked shut. This is because the exhibition closed weeks ago and we can now see only glimpses of the artworks, still waiting to be de-installed, by peering through half-obscured doors and windows. There's a big, blob-like figure made of blue fun fur; an abstract neon wall work; a series of projected slides with text that we have to read in reverse.

Because we are unable to see the artworks properly we focus instead on what we might otherwise ignore - the piles of unopened post addressed to Spencer Anthony; an overheard conversation in the lavatory; the words 'Mary Aurory Sorry' graffitied on an outside wall; peripheral figures glimpsed behind glass or sitting in doorways. And the odd thing is that in spite of the fact that, like Nat Tate, Gander's Blue Conceptualists are also all fictional, like art detectives, we piece together all this information about them (and the more closely you look, the more of it you'll find) until our imagination forms it into a plausible back story. It may be based in fantasy but like reading a good novel it allows you to imagine an alternative reality that's detailed and multi-layered enough to merge with your own.

Want some clues before your visit? Ryan Gander answers our art-sleuthing questions.

How did the Blue Conceptualists get their name?
'Primarily from Santo Sterne's “Blue Monster” sculpture.There's also a lot of colour within the artists's names. There's more about this in the back room if you look closely at the plasterboard and newspaper covering the window.'

What's the story behind Santo Sterne's “Blue Monster”?
'It's Santo having a dig at Aston Ernest, which is why there's a sign around the monster's neck which reads “I'd be better appreciated if I were in monochrome". It's embarrassed for being that blue colour. Santo is of the opinion that Aston's work is too highbrow and intellectual.'

Why is there animosity between Santo Sterne and Aston Ernest?
'They are arch-enemies, a bit like Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty. One is an idealised imagining of an artist and the other is his nemesis. Their names are also anagrams of each other.'

Why have The Blue Conceptualists not shown together recently?
'There's been a lot of fallings out in the group over the years. You might overhear a conversation that relates to this in the lavatory.'

Who is the exhibition's curator Marsh Tinley?
'He graduated from the Royal College of Art about eight years ago. He was intrigued by the Blue Conceptualists because they're a bit of an unknown anomaly in the art world. He's taken it upon himself to re-introduce them.'

Whose work do you like the best?
'Aston's slide piece “In front of you so to speak” (1985), is probably the work I'd have most liked to have made. But Spencer's work “It cries itself to sleep” (1973), which you can only see part of in the show, has the most interesting back story. It's from Lee Miller's famous photo shoot of herself in Hitler's bath. It plays on the question of whether that whole shoot was staged and not documentary.'

In Time Out's five star rating system how many would you give 'Field of Meaning'?
'It's not the best show of work by the Blue Conceptualists but I'd be generous and give it four, on account of the curator being young and introducing some very significant artists who most people won't know about.'

'Locked Room Scenario' is at Londonewcastle Depot until October 23 2011.