Make Every Show...
Endlessly inventive conceptual artist Ryan Gander exhibits in Derry~Londonderry
It’s about new ways of seeing. That is something you often hear about art exhibitions.
At the latest show in Derry-Londonderry's Centre for Contemporary Art, a pair of bulbous cartoon eyes bulge out of the wall, blinking and swivelling, their movement triggered by sensors. How’s that for a new way of seeing?
Except that it’s not quite new, because the eyes remind you a little of Scooby-Doo or The Cat and the Canary, or any comedy thriller film where the eyes move in a portrait hanging on the wall. And as the eyes blink, they make a noise that sounds like a hammer, like someone’s doing a bit of DIY.
That is apt, really, because there is a sense of make do and mend to Make Every Show Like It's Your Last, a show of works by the English conceptual artist Ryan Gander, a feeling of just-moved-in-ness, of finding temporary solutions to various problems.
The bare white gallery walls help. Bare apart from one or two things, unpacked and bunged quickly and meaningfully on the wall. 'My Family Before Me', for instance, is a black and white photograph. It is small, and the picture sits a little skew-whiff in the frame. It’s a family photo – mum, dad, young child dressed in anoraks, hoods, woolly hats, looking full-face at the camera, smiling.
Behind them a broom leans against the wall of a caravan or prefab. It’s beautiful, absolutely beautiful, because it’s friendly and warm and full of love and fun. Temporary, maybe, but important enough to put up straight away, as soon as it’s been unpacked.
In the middle of the room is 'I is...(v)', a den made by Gander’s daughter, a sheet draped over a chair, a cushion and paint pot. It could also be a continuation of the just-moved-in look, a dust sheet protecting some furniture from dripping paint. Either way, it’s a short-term measure.
Except it’s not. It’s actually a marble sculpture of Gander's daughter’s den, the folds and drapes beautifully re-created, the recreation beautifully recreated. It's about new ways of seeing...
On the floor next to this very solid, very permanent piece, is a crumpled up sheet of paper, an art work entitled 'Career Seeking Missile', a diagram showing the seating plan for an opening night dinner of artists and other important guests. It seems to have been chucked away, while the daughter’s den takes pride of place.
Then there is 'A Lamp Made by the Artist for his Wife'. There are four of them, actually, each suffixed with a figure recording its place in the number of attempts made – 44th, 47th, 49th, 50th. One is a packing crate, labelled and marked, on which Gander has placed a bare bulb standing on dumbbell weights, the bright light shielded by a flattened and folded bacofoil tray.
Another attempt is a cluster of pendant lights, bulbs held within kitchen colanders, secured by plastic binding strips. Yes, Gander is a cultural magpie, producing playful post-modernism that makes us reconsider objects and explore the nature of art.
But – to me, anyway – essentially Gander is an artist who loves his wife and child and who looks to celebrate that love clear and joyfully in an exhibition packed with domestic warmth. Wife, family, daughter – these words crop up again and again in this exhibition, bringing with them all the attendant feelings of love and pride that we associate with them.
On a wall hangs 'Please be Eager – It’s just a Picture of You in Green with a Smile...You’re Most Welcome'. It’s a picture of the artist by his daughter, a collection of splodges and smears of paint on a clear glass palette, green and orange and yellow and dark blue.
It looks nothing like Gander. It isn’t even all that green. But it holds the potential to be just like him, or it is just as his daughter sees him. With a bit of imagination, it could be him – or it could be anything.
'Imagineering' plays on a loop in the main gallery. It is a television commercial aimed at promoting the importance of the imagination. Produced by a real agency following Gander’s brief, it is presented to the viewer as having been commissioned by government Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
It is played straight, very earnest, and is therefore very funny. It shows a group of schoolchildren. We see bubbles floating through the air, impermanent, fleeting, always liable to burst, but the ideas they hold and represent are real and solid.
In the second gallery, a second video, 'As it Presents Itself – Somewhere Vague'. The viewer is drawn by a voice down a dark passage. The words are serious – they talk of art, performance, physicality, reality, exploration, presentation. And then you see the video.
Plasticine characters, like Wallace and Gromit, stand on a stage next to a piano, fat fingers poised over the keys. The clash is comical, joyous, with narration performed by Richard Briers, in that rich, warm, friendly Roobarb voice.
Make Every Show Like It's Your Last is just a small slice of Gander’s prolific output. It absolutely glows with warmth and humanity. It’s playful, honest and generous. It’s truthful, funny, serious stuff.
Make Every Show Like It's Your Last runs in the Centre for Contemporary Art, Derry~Londonderry until November 29.