'Ryan Gander: ‘Going to a gallery is like taking your imagination to the gym’' – The Guardian
18 June 2023
The prolific British conceptual artist on the source of his creativity, why he left London – and a coin-based treasure hunt he is making for Manchester’s international festival
The real killer of art, Ryan Gander suggests, is procrastination. His solution is always to act on ideas “before they lose their energy”. His studio, in a former register office and sports hall in the Suffolk village of Melton, is living proof of that determination. Before we sit and talk, he gives me a tour.
In one room are the moon paintings he is making for an exhibition in Tokyo, some using paint prints from upturned tables in a Chinese restaurant; in another are some of his draped mirror series in which the reflection-obscuring fabric is cast in marble; here are piles of art posters for exhibitions that never happened, there are animatronic “dying mosquitoes” twitching on gold playing cards; in one corner is a vending machine trading an alphabetic list of “everything you never want to run out of” – A is After Eights, B is Beer, # is a bag of marijuana; there are recreations of graffitied back alley doorways, recast in polished steel; plans for the most authentic lifesize gorilla robot ever made, with “smells, sounds, everything”, which should be ready for his exhibition at Lisson Gallery later this year; homages to 1970s slideshows; a recreated transparent Japanese gym locker…
Gander has always been a one-man group show. For a start, he has a small team of assistants making and planning; for another thing he’s got eight artistic alter egos, who have created different strands of his work for more than 15 years. The fictional artist selves, he says, allow him “to make work better than I can make work, but also work that’s more superficial and shallow than I would want to make”. The tackiest of them is Santo Sterne and the most high-minded is Santo’s anagram Aston Ernest.
Gander, as you’ll have gathered, is a conceptual artist, but he is also a likeable kind of philosopher, providing ad hoc theories to order. My favourite piece of his is The End (2020), in which an animatronic mouse appeared through a hole at the bottom of the wall of an empty gallery room to talk about metaphysics (in the voice of Gander’s nine-year-old daughter Olive). Gander’s practice includes the ongoing lecture series Loose Associations, in which he riffs on ideas that interest him. He has never been afraid of risk. For the Documenta 13 show in Germany in 2012, he exhibited a cool breeze circulating in an empty gallery.
We end up in his office – “I don’t work in here that often,” he says, “because I get lonely” – which has a couple of hundred printed notes pinned to the wall, as three-word “catalyst ideas” for future projects: “cartoon, poster, wobble”, say. “You won’t know what that means,” Gander says, “but I do.” The hope is that the cards start to make connections with each other, like a mind map, or a police investigation wall. There are also shelves of file boxes marked: “chronos” and “kairos”, two ancient Greek words for different aspects of time. “Chronos is what I would make if I had more time and money,” Gander says, explaining his system. “Kairos is more like ‘readiness’, for now. Like my son, Baxter, is three and he is autistic. You can’t say to him ‘wait until six o’clock to eat’. He has to eat when he is hungry. That’s kairos.” He pulls out a bunch of bundled photographs: “Baxter’s lines,” he says. “My son is quite compulsive and he puts all his toys and cars and stuff in long lines across the floor. I’ve been recording them in pictures, and I’ll probably recreate them in a gallery at some point.”
Does he get haunted by the ideas he hasn’t made yet?
“No,” he says, “just by never having enough resources or time.”
Read the full conversation between Ryan Gander and Tim Adams in The Guardian here.
The Manchester Internation Festical is on view 29 June – 16 July.
Ryan Gander: PUNTO! is on view at Lisson London 15 September - 28 October.