It is difficult and possibly unhelpful to try and give a survey of Ryan Gander‘s latest project, Locked Room Scenario. The only really helpful comment is that it ought to be visited, especially as Gander has been so successful at the Venice Biennale this year and will not be showing again in London in 2011.

Produced in collaboration with the public art organisation Artangel, who specialise in visual works that exist outside of the gallery space. Locked Room Scenario is an immersive, conceptual, installation that combines performance, sculpture and language. It is a duplicitous work that plays with the porous boundaries between reality and construct. It hinges on assumption, misunderstanding and feelings of insecurity produced by the inaccessibility of the work.

The expectation of a locked room scenario is that you will be locked in, but in this case you are locked out. The reality of the work, is that it is a single piece by one artist. However Gander has presented the exhibition as a group show, and the art objects are attributed to fictional artists. Though these works are visible through small windows and cracks the visitor does not have access to the exhibition space they are in.

…space for the much-maligned Shoreditch-hipster-semi-arty culture

Hard at work...

The visitor’s experience is of moving around the peripheries, snooping and spying, which creates an atmosphere of unease and is a reversal of the standard, contemplative relationship we have with visual art. The visitor finds themselves clue hunting, in an attempt to piece together the exhibition and have full access to the work and ideas.

Gander’s choice of venue is loaded in its apparent neutrality. The Londonewcastle Depot in Shoreditch is an ex-industrial space, the kind of east London building that has been given a new purpose by the contemporary art industry. The appeal of these spaces to artists and curators is their lack of architectural intrusion, since their simple functionality can be easily adapted into a “white cube” gallery. This blankness has also appealed to property developers, nightclub and boutique owners, and other moneymen of the creative industries. Large areas of disused industrial spaces have been taken over and transformed, creating a physical space for the much-maligned Shoreditch-hipster-semi-arty culture to exist in. Gander, of course, is conscious of this, and by using The Londonewcastle Depot he establishes a series of expectations and assumptions about the type of art in the exhibition and the type of people it is for.

…Gander’s work comes to you before you go to it.

Central to Locked Room is a double logic; a play on our natural assumptions of what is real and what is pretence. Sometimes Gander’s games become deliberate and exaggerated – it is not revealing too much to say that the skip filled with what looks like a discarded Big Blue Monster costume, gives the viewer a clue to the absurdist humour of the work.

But the jokes aren’t always so silly, Gander plays a clever game with his audience’s expectations of control over how they experience exhibitions. Booking is essential, and you are required to provide some rudimentary contact details as part of the booking process, it is revealing too much to say how, but through different modes of contact, Gander’s work comes to you before you go to it.

Locked Room Scenario is an exciting and original work, but not without fault. During my visit I found some of the performance questionable, and the styling unauthentic, having locked into these weaknesses I found the experience diluted. Furthermore, one of the questions that Gander seems to be posing – about the accessibility of contemporary art, and the fraudulency of the contemporary art world – is trite and almost sycophantic to Artangel’s objectives, as an agency that counters the big business of the international art world. But this will be, by no means, the experience of every visitor, for many people the performance and expanded sense of the work has been extremely affective and surprising. 

The exhibition runs until 23 October.

Admission: £4 (Must be booked in advance.)

3½ Stars

Images courtesy of Ryan Gander


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