It is a difficult job to critique something without describing it, and it’s difficult to describe Ryan Gander’s Locked Room Scenario without giving the game away; and the blind experience of this project, the latest offering from Artangel, is key to its understanding. And this is what is so wonderfully paradoxical about Gander’s latest concoction – knowledge will ruin the experience, but without it, you won’t be able to join up the dots.
It’s one of many interesting questions raised by this installation-performance-exhibition piece, housed in the rugged Londonewcastle depot. Artangel – with projects including Turner-prize nominated Roger Hiorn’s Seizure, and Rachel Whiteread’s House – are undeniably good at this kind of art, that engages in an wholly imaginative, original way, with its otherwise incongruous edifice – an abandoned flat on a council estate, a disused industrial warehouse. Making use of these spaces, in abundance across London, is incontrovertibly something to celebrate.
What Artangel elicit effectively here too with Gander, is the fact that ‘public’ art can be subtle and thought-provoking, without lowering itself to some kind of dumbing-down, or turning into a fairground. That said, Gander’s Locked Room Scenario definitely picks up on an element of play – visitors are allowed in, in tranches of eight, for a thirty-minute period, and are assigned a participatory role, of intruders or detectives; there is no information (unless misleading, such as an exhibition statement about a fictional group show) so that after feeling your way around dark corridors, attempting to open numerous locked doors, and peering thorough awkward peepholes onto an exhibition inside that is semi-obscured from view, you begin to search in desperation for some kind of explanation – picking up a discarded balled-up piece of paper left disarmingly on the floor, clambering on your partner to crane a look in from an elevated window. There’s a sense of being watched – a figure moving enigmatically behind the glass of another locked door, strange youths loitering outside the entrance – but also of watching, and waiting, for something strange or terrible to happen.
Gander also questions the way we view art – with his ‘meta’ exhibition, at this sealed-off, ficticious gallery, with its fake artists, we are led to contemplate the exhibition itself as an exhibit, and enquire into all its contrived parts. The facile comfort with which we usually contemplate art works hanging in a gallery is turned upside down. Here we struggle and strain to catch sight of the works, and feel conversely compelled to discover their meaning. Nothing is clear, and you are not sure who’s in on it – animate or inanimate – and who’s not. Locked Room Scenario is, concisely put, consistent with what Tom Morton calls Gander’s ‘ongoing pro-wrestling bout with the business of seeing and thinking, feeling and trusting.’
Gander opens as many doors as he locks, and there is no denouement to this precisely coordinated ‘whodunnit,’ but Gander’s Locked Room creation shakes things up in an inimitable way, and there’s something irresistible about his approach.
We won’t ruin the ending by telling you what happens next.
-- Charlotte Jansen, a writer living in London.
All images courtesy Artangel.
Images:Ryan Gander: Locked room scenario, Artangel, 30 August - 23 October 2011, (open Tuesday - Sunday), Londonewcastle Depot, 1 - 3 Wenlock Rd, London N1 7SL.