‘Listen, tell him everyone gets to lock their own room.’ – Mary Aurory
There’s a warehouse in Hoxton with an exhibition in it. Not the one made of stuffed fox-heads, or the one in which the old masters are recreated out of ketchup. This is a ‘group’ exhibition, put together by Ryan Gander, although his name appears nowhere within the space.
Locked Room Scenario is viewable by appointment only, and is in keeping with Gander’s usual elliptical style in that it invites the participant to play detective. It is difficult to describe the consumer of Gander’s work, and particularly Locked Room Scenario to a single description: ‘viewer’ is certainly not appropriate, for here, we are a part of the artwork. Audience, or participant, then.
When the participant arrives at the warehouse, tickets are taken not within the building but beside the gate. Locked Room Scenario is more than just an exhibition: it goes beyond the gallery to the concrete floor, the graffiti on the walls, the contents of the skip, the discarded clubnight tickets and, of course, the locked doors.
Everywhere in Gander’s piece, the participant is confronted with locked doors. One of the few spaces we are permitted access to is a ramshackle shop – or what once was a shop – with few products. On the floor are boxes of old exhibition guides, and a solitary spinner holds a range of postcards. They have titles like ‘Enough blue for a dozen sailor suits’, ‘It cries itself to sleep’, or ‘Say no, if you can. Say no, no’.
This text demonstrates the tone of Gander’s piece – for it does feel like a single, cohesive piece rather than an exhibition, so tantalizingly complete is the world he presents us with. Here, and throughout the work, the tone is arch, mocking: it is only going a shade further than any of the other warehouse exhibitions in Hoxton.
Further probing reveals the press release for ‘Field of Meaning’, 6 May – 21 August 2011 (the exhibition is over, then). The text is a delicious exercise in bad writing, subtle enough to be crushingly sarcastic. The first sentence reads: ‘Kimberling Gallery is delighted to present the work of seven artists whose significance to the development of European Conceptualism has been hugely overlooked in recent years.’ It describes ‘fluxusesque’ artworks with names like Bosh, it’s an artwork. This is a large part of the pleasure of Locked Room Scenario: Gander’s masterful and minute attention to detail.
The press release is corroborated by wall text immediately outside the ‘shop’, but that is where the explicit information ends. Participants are led around a network of corridors that circle the central exhibition space without ever entering it. At every turn, you are confronted with a teasingly small window, often obscured with newspaper, allowing a view of part of one of the works: a flash of neon light, a snatch of sound, the discarded jacket and iPhone of a gallery attendant.
Because the work gives glimpses and snatches of information, it is difficult not to be drawn into the game of it. A thorough, detective-life exploration of the outside of the building seems necessary. This yields graffiti apologising to Mary Aurory (one of the fictional artists showing work in ‘Field of Meaning’), and a skip filled with rubbish and blue fur (one of the materials of ‘Say no, if you can. Say no, no’ see below). There is also a saturnine bloke in a woolly hat, sitting reading something like Sartre on the steps to the upper floor of the gallery. Requests to him to be allowed into the space were met with scorn and derision.
Locked Room Scenario doesn’t finish when you leave the grounds on Wenlock Road. A quick google of Mary Aurory’s name reveals a letter from her to ‘Murray’ (not named within the work as far as this blogger can see), and a cryptic video showing more graffiti. The Kimberling Gallery even has it’s own website. Gander’s Scenario extends into the realms of the virtual as well.
The finest thing about the work is Gander’s attention to detail. The world he creates is so comprehensive, so believable, and yet so arch and occasionally hilarious. It cannot fail to interest the participant: so little is given away, that the imagination is permitted free and abounding reign.
Locked Room Scenario ran from 30th August – 23rd October 2011.
It showed at Londonewcastle Depot / 1 – 3 Wenlock Rd / London N1 7SL.
For more information on Ryan Gander, click here.