2 / 7

Ryan Gander: Other People Place

Ryan G 005.jpg
Adam Carr

Conversations with Everyone

A conversation between Ryan Gander and Adam Carr at Galeria Nuno Centeno


Adam Carr (AC): The exhibition concept that frames the show and brings all of the works together points to aspects of your practice, which, in a broad sense, is about other people. The works are the result of somebody else’s expertise and people are referred to in other works which make the personal public. There is also a number of previously unseen pieces that project new languages and ways of communicating…


Ryan Gander (RG): I think I’m of the opinion that the world is way more interesting than things that happen in art galleries, and that people, when we’re in an art gallery, everything is charged where we pay massive attention to everything. Because it’s charged by the context of the white space and we know we should pay attention, we look for clues and signifiers and coded meaning, but we never walk through life with that kind of interest or intrigue in anything. If you look out the window now, the world is amazing. It’s full of signs and stories and urban narratives and traces, but we just don’t see them — we’re blind to them and I think we’re blind to them because there’s too many stimuli in the world. I’ve always thought it’s my job to go around the world to collect and decrypt natural signs and hidden meanings. The extension of that is difference and intrigue, and the consequence for me and my practice is people. So, for me it doesn’t start with the thing which is a spectacle and end with the spectator or the visitor — the transaction starts with a spectator. It then becomes a spectacle through my intervention with that spectator, and then goes back to the spectator, so there’s people in everything.



AC: Much of your work is about how we understand and decipher things, and it questions how our cognition takes place, often by abstracting it.


RG: I also think that I have a very liberal understanding of authorship and of copyright and ownership of ideas. I think artists who complain that they’ve been copied or get very uptight about copyright and authorship are usually the artists who don’t have many ideas. My problem is that I have too many ideas to the point where it’s a hindrance. I don’t know what to choose to do. If you have too many ideas, and somebody does something that is very similar to something you’ve done, it doesn’t worry you, because you’ve got something else you need to concentrate on. You’re always working on the next thing. Things become less valuable to you. There’s a core in my work which is about freeness and in that freeness, there is agency or liberty. The way that understanding works for me allows me freedom — everything that I encounter, including people, my relationships with them and their skills is almost a material and that means that I can work quickly, freely and without a sort of regret or procrastination.



AC: The show’s curatorial concept has a particular relationship with the history of the gallery, which used to be occupied by stonemason masons who were pinnacle in helping to build the city of Porto. The show also has added context when thinking about the current pandemic and how we are re-evaluating our relationship to others. On that subject, there is something that you said last night about missing having the ability to travel in order to observe. Of course, art-making and its history are reflection of one’s connection with the world, and then sharing that to a broader public. I wondered if you could speak a little bit more about the inability to travel…


RG: Yeah, the inability to travel! Well, I don’t have use sketchbooks because I can’t draw, so I just take photos and as I spend half the year travelling in different countries, and encounter cultures and surroundings that are very alien to me, I accumulate quite a lot. I totally get off on being in alien situations. I find them incredibly comfortable, more comfortable than being at home sometimes. I like feeling like an outsider… L’Étranger. Desmond Morris, who wrote the book ‘The Naked Ape’, was an anthropologist but referred to himself as a zoologist. He called himself a zoologist because it increased the distance between him and other humans. I am interested in our understanding of language and sign systems, thinking about cultural differences, relic gestures, nuances and dress codes — all these things that play into the sociology of people. And so, I feel like I’m an observer, not a participant. I collect experiences when I travel just by taking photos on my phone, then when I return I print them out. I have thousands of photos in a very elaborate, almost a kind of neurotic, filing system that I turn to when I start new projects and artworks. The last year and a half, there’s been no new material to speak of because I’ve not been anywhere. I’ve been printing out maybe 200 photos a year instead of 20,000. It’s been like a drought of stimulus. I’m not saying I’m different to anyone else, it’s the same for absolutely everyone. Though because of the way I’m set up, and the sort of the way that I make work, it means that drought has significant impact into my art-making.



AC: What I think is quite key to your work is its ability to combine, balance and potentially conflate everyday sightings and personal occurrences with larger societal and political concepts in a way that they can be read for the first time and have the ability of being universal. Examples in the show include the den works, the newer moon paintings and protest signs.


RG: You know before when we were watching the video work and you said it’s like the intervention of the mask in the work could be an avatar? Well there’s a sociologist called Goffman who had this idea that we are always wearing a mask. Everyone is always in a role and no one is ever themselves, even with the person that they know the most intimately. You’re never yourself. You’re always pretending to be something, because we are effectively as humans in control and hyperconscious of signification. Even our clothes come out of our consciousness — we make decisions in nanoseconds, even subconsciously, about the clothes we wear. When I was a kid I know this lad in Chester called Magnus who worked at Alexander’s Jazz Bar. He worked there in the day doing coffee and it was always really empty as people just went there at night and not in the day. He was so bored that he’d pretend there was different cameras around the bar, like it was a TV studio, just to keep his mind entertained. He would pretend that he was being shot from different viewpoints. That idea for me relates strongly to this show and your curatorial oversight and the concept. If you can remove yourself from being conscious of what you’re looking at, like putting on an invisibility costume — that’s true anthropology in a way. I think ‘Other People Place’ is like, hyper-covert anthropology — it’s like being in an invisibility suit. Also, there’s a lot of works that are about the presence of the spectator or the absence of the spectator, like the covered mirrors. The thing that’s missing is you, the spectator.



AC: While there are some works in the show that are a result of conversations with fabricators and, in part, about their particular craft, others such as the series of lamp works are about you, yourself, making them…

RG: Yeah, I made almost all of them. I have to make a confession. There’s about 10 I didn’t make out of the 100. That’s because I think my dad was a bit bored and I wanted to hang out with him as I was alone in the studio for a week in the summer. This was around 2013. I thought I’d be so nice if my dad hung out with me. Again, it’s about another person. I felt orchestrating my dad to come and hang out with me was to make our lives more interesting and more fun. The idea for the series of lamps was a natural process. I think the greatest kind of propulsion for the production of good art is to lead a creative life, for example if friends come around we should consider what we cook for them as a work of art. Whenever we make decisions… it’s a creative act. What you wear is a creative act, the bumper sticker on your car is a creative act. If you try to lead a hyper-creative life, the art just makes itself. It’s the fallout of living a creative life. So, Rebecca, my wife, said she wanted a lamp, and we looked on the internet and they were all horrible or a lot of money or design classics which come with their own kind of…



AC: Baggage?


RG: Exactly. For me, Jakobson or Eames, for example, wouldn’t want you to pay a 1000 pound for a chair. They were functionalists and they were modernists. They wanted to make utilitarian furniture for everyone. I always buy the fake ones that are exactly the same design, where I know that people who are making them make money. It’s the same with the lamp. I thought, well maybe I can just make a lamp. There’s a shed at the bottom of the garden where I throw a lot of crap. And I just went in there and I made a lamp out of a garden hoe. I got a bucket of cement and put the garden hoe in the bucket, then I got a handlebar off a bike, covered it in handlebar tape, threaded a cable through the handlebar tube and hung a ball from it and put a foot-switch and a plug on it. It was a bit wonky because it was the first one I had made. Rebecca and I thought it was pretty funny, mainly as it is was quite a good lamp. You could see that it’s like a bricolage approach, but it also had a loose associated methodology and references that go out in weird obscure tangents to other parts of my practice. I called it ‘A lamp made by the artist for his wife’.



AC: It is almost a critique of when designer objects become artworks…


RG: I sent a picture to a few people of the first lamp and one of them was my French gallerist who said, can I show this? It was instantly sold it so I made another for Rebecca. The enjoyment of making them grew and I ended up making them as a series because I just got so addicted. I went to Paris once with a few people from the studio and we all had two suitcases. We went to BHV, the department store. In the basement there’s the bricolage section, the DIY section. We purchased a lot of things from there and just put it in suitcases and came back on the Eurostar — a safe, a breeze block, bungee ties, different ball switches, all sorts, as materials for me to make lamps. There was some apprehension at security, not that anything illegal was happening just that it was kind of strange shopping to explain to a customs officer.



AC: Just to go back to the moon paintings which I mentioned that are in the exhibition, they also use domestic items and are earnest in their making…


RG: Yes, the paintings. I own paintings by people and I understand that painting is enjoyable because I’ve done it. It’s a lovely thing to do. Though, I have historically been a little critical of painting as a practice as I do not identity with doing one form of art-making, mostly as I think art is the only place in the world where anything is possible. It’s where pure experimentation and functionless nonsense can exist, a place for bold and bravado acts — a place to take risks and chances and be nonconformist. During lockdown I was looking to make artworks without the need of loads of people to help me, including fabricators. I began to think about painting. The painters that I love are ones that think of a work of art before they think of it as a painting, like Fontana. Fontana is great because he understands that this is fabric stretched over wooden square with oil on it. He is a painter, and he doesn’t take it for granted. He questions it from the zero point. I was trying to make painting that defies expectation. I just started painting the moon, because it was romantic and I thought that there was a kind of tongue in cheek irony involved of a romantic stereotype of an artist who would paint their mood. Just like romanticised stereotype cliché of contemporary art work in a Bugs Bunny cartoon that would be represented by perhaps a blue square. The moon seemed like the perfect subject. It was a sign or emblem of romanticism. Like a blue square is a sort of sign or emblem of contemporary art. I started painting it but got bored very quickly. I didn’t want to paint the background dark blue, it was a lot of work. So, I bought a roll of Indigo Japanese denim, which is already the colour of the night sky, making them quicker to make. I then started trying to paint circles. It was very frustrated because actually painting a circle is very difficult, so I looked around the room for something to draw around and I saw the bin, which is basically the asshole of the studio right? The lowest common denominator. It occurred to me that, if I just dipped it in paint and used it to print on the denim, it would be easier than drawing around it and then using a brush to fill the circle with white paint. Like I said before, sometimes artworks just make themselves by being open to happenstance and resisting conformity. It looks just like a moon.



AC: And that is not only part of the story with these pieces…


RG: Yes, they’re paired often with protest paintings. I was interested in making a sort of semiotics and language sign systems combined with the moon paintings — I think the moon is a perfect Natural Sign and Protest Paintings are almost like the perfect conventional sign. You know the way Merleau-Ponty had primary and secondary forms of expression? Things with intent and things that communicate that don’t have intent? It’s basically a semiotic study or explanation of those ideas, that there’s signs that say things that are meant to tell you something, and there are signs that say things that accidentally tell you something. And the key difference between the two is one has intent to communicate and one doesn’t have intent to communicate. That’s the foundation of all semiotics as I understand it, so it seemed logical to make these paintings in pairs. Although they’re individual paintings, I always think that they look really good side by side with a sort of fake protest painting.



AC: The protest paintings use different materials which are quite key to this idea of the signifier and signified…


RG: I picked a canvas, actually, it’s burlap or Yute, because it’s the same colour as cardboard, which is what most protest signs are painted on. It was important however that there was no political content, purely because it’s distracting.



AC: The content is deliberately unclear. We have often spoken about artwork with a clear, political message. I completely subscribe to the idea that the very nature of making art and making exhibitions is a political act itself, because it involves the transferral of knowledge. Just by their own virtue they are political…


RG: Yeah, everything’s political. For me, setting out to make political art is a kind of self-destructive. People always have different opinions. I thought about making work as a protest sign that used the visual language of protest but was completely devoid of political content. I achieved that just by starting to scribble. I’ve learned to write in a handwriting that looks not like Romanesque script, not like Korean script, not like an Arabic script and not like Russian script, but it’s a way of writing that is scribbly and squiggly that might remind you of all of these. It reminds you of language but it is illegible. I’ve called the typeface Tildescript. A Tilde is a character used in both mathematical equations and in grammar. It’s basically a squiggly dash — a sign for approximation. Tildescript communicates nothing but conveys everything.


AC: The invention of typefaces and other possible ways of communication also feature elsewhere in this exhibition…


RG: Yes, there is also the stone typeface — Set in Stone. It’s funny because Hergé…


AC: Who features elsewhere in this exhibition…


RG: Yes. He made a lot of his cartoons and when there was something political, like a newspaper, he knew the cartoons would be published in different countries and people would have different perspectives. Instead, he would sometimes squiggle the headlines, so that you couldn’t read what it meant. Tildescript is quite like that… The other typeface, Set in Stone, features here in this show in the form of neons. They’re another kind of work that just comes out as a fallout of trying to live a creative life. I went to the beach near our house with my kids and the two eldest kids collected a load of stones in a bag. When we got home we laid them out on the floor and I noticed and explained to them that there was the same number of stones as there were letters in the alphabet. I told them we could make an alphabet. It took a while for them to understand… but it was a basic lesson in all language. I told them language is simply two different people agreeing that one thing represents another thing. For example agreeing that a word representing a thing or emotion, or a letter representing a sound, or a gesture representing a directive. We wrote letters on the back of the stones and then I photographed them. We traced the shapes of the stones out on the computer and went to a typographer who made a fully functioning usable typeface. I’ve republished books in it. The typeface is called Set in Stone, which in English means permanent or unchangeable. It’s freely available to anyone and can be downloaded from setinstonetypeface.co.uk. I keep meaning to sit down for a day or two and actually learn the shapes, because I would love to be able to just write in it instinctively. Can you imagine just writing a letter in differently shaped circles? You know, the brain is just an elaborate machine, isn’t it? Much of art is about codifying things and decoding defined things, art allows things to come out of that machine with different meanings than when they went in, it’s as simple and as complex as you make it.



Ryan Gander

Galeria Nuno Centeno

Adam Carr (Born 1981, Chester, UK) is an internationally recognised curator and writer and is currently a working at MOSTYN, Wales. He has organised numerous exhibitions for museums, institutions and galleries across the globe. Carr has worked with a broad range of internationally established artists such as Nina Beier, Daniel Buren, Claire Fontaine, Simon Fujiwara, Ryan Gander, Annette Kelm, Jonathan Monk, Tris Vonna-Michell, Danh Vo and Lawrence Weiner, among numerous others. He has also worked with a number of emerging artists including Gabriele De Santis, Alek O., and Jesse Wine. In addition to his work as a curator, he is highly active writer having written for numerous exhibition catalogues, artist monographs and art publications worldwide. He is a regular contributing writer for Cura., Flash Art, Mousse and Spike Art Quarterly.


Proofreading: Diogo Montenegro.


Ryan G 001
Ryan G 002
Ryan G 006
Ryan G 004
Ryan G 003
Ryan G 008
Ryan G 010
Ryan G 007
Ryan G 009

Ryan Gander: Other People Place. Exhibition views at Nuno Centeno Gallery. Courtesy of the artist and Nuno Centeno Gallery.

Back to Top