Investigating Stuff. Ryan Gander interview

by Chris

Moore 墨虎恺
translated by Chen Yufeng 陈煜峰

“Artist” is irreplaceable and useless. Under the rubric of artist we could write “someone who investigates things in a peculiar way” or “asking questions without answers”. It can include making things but has become as much about staging, happenstance, adaption, and a ludic quality centered not on the joke itself but its performance. This introduction to Ryan Gander is also useless. Where to begin even?

We are sitting in Ryan’s studio in Hoxton, just around the corner from an imposingly suburban Islamic Center. The studio is in a “light-industrial zone” under one of the arches of a railway line (irritatingly Flanagan & Allen’s 1932 song pops into my head). I walked in at lunchtime, so first came a communal meal at and during which gluten-free pasta was dissected in detail. The round table stands in the corner of the room just near the entrance and is where Ryan usually works when not at his home in the countryside. In the middle of the room is a wide table and crammed around the walls are various artworks and crates in preparation for an upcoming exhibition. A team of 6 is hard at work. After the plates are cleared away the interview begins.

Ryan Gander (image courtesy the artist)


Chris Moore: I was going to grab one of your books to read on the plane, and then I realized that you only do really big books.

Ryan Gander: I’ve got lots of small ones as well!

CM: The two I have are—you know the two I’ve got! I wasn’t going to lug that back to London.

[We are looking at a bloody big book on the shelf near Ryan’s head]

RG: It’s funny because that’s the new one—“Culturefield”—and it’s the most like a catalogue. But all the others—there’s something very…. Artists who are interesting artists, I think are always a bit averse to making catalogues. It’s a sort of celebration of your own achievement, isn’t it? When books can be works and you have the money to make a book, why would you make a catalogue? So I thought about all these books that I made that are works, you know collections of lectures and TV scripts, and collections of essays about objects, all these sort of readers and things like that. And then there comes a point where you are just sick of printing off pictures of your work. Because people want information. So I just gave in and made a big book that’s a catalogue [says Ryan, laughing], so these people know what I’ve done!

CM: It’s helpful though. It makes a huge difference.

RG: It’s weird. Having it is really nice, and your mum’s really proud when she’s got one!

CM: Well sometimes it also just helps to put things in context. I mean, you become an artist—it was probably a slow process and—

RG: I don’t know how you characterize “identify becoming an artist”.

CM: Even describing you “just” as an artist seems inadequate.

RG: I don’t really feel like an artist. I went through a period where I’d never admit to being an artist because I thought it was pretentious to say that you were an artist, because it sort of suggested you’d reached the point of your ability, which I never thought I was at. So I often said I was a teacher, because I was teaching art at the same time. And then when you stop teaching because you make your money from making art, then you’re not really teaching anymore, so you can’t really say you’re a teacher. And then there’s also that thing about—it became really fashionable, didn’t it, in the late nineties–early noughties to become multi-disciplinary: you know—“oh, the mobile studio, I don’t need a studio—empty studio practice—I’m based in Barcelona and work in London and New York and I don’t have a studio because I have a mobile telephone and a Yellow Pages”. So there’s that, and that sort of goes hand-in-hand with the idea that you’re not an artist: you’re a multi-disciplinary créateur or something—do you know what I mean?

CM: Well the definition’s not really important anyway. It’s what you make of it.

RG: Yes, the only thing that matters is whether it’s interesting or not—if it’s design or writing or art, doesn’t really matter what it is. The only thing that matters is that it’s good, and it’s interesting.

CM: I didn’t realize you had also done scripts.

RG: Yes I’ve done some different [things]—I’ve done a bit of everything really. There’s not a lot I haven’t done. I sat down actually last New Year—not this one, the one before—and tried to make a list of things that I wanted to do, like a bucket list—things that I wanted to do before I die that I haven’t done. And there weren’t that many things. There’s ceramics—I did a bit of ceramics last year. I mean, that’s what makes it an exciting job for me is that you can try everything. You can wake up and make clothes for a McDonalds drive-through attendant or you can design a dish for people who live in a specific tower block in East London—dance, ballet—everything’s possible.

Ryan Gander, “The Way Things Collide (Phaidon Book, Meet Inner Sole), 20 x 46.3 x 59.1 cm (sculpture), 90 x 46.3 x 59.1 cm (pedestal)oak, 2012. Courtesy: The artist and Johnen Galerie, Berlin. Photo: © Andrea Rossetti

CM: How does it work with different sorts of publics? Obviously the work that you make that ends up in an art fair somewhere isn’t necessarily the same as public commissions or what you’re doing in a context with students or in the sense of engaging with the public.

RG: It’s all sort of the same—it’s the same question as how you define success, isn’t it? Because if you’re an artist that makes commercial work then your success is defined by sales and museum collections. I mean that’s probably a generalized success marker for most of the art world, isn’t it? Then, the trainers I made for Adidas, I would say, was one of my most successful works in another way, the way that it—



RG: I made some trainers for Adidas, two pairs of trainers that were released by them. They had titles on the tongues…

Ryan Gander “Yo-yo criticism” 2014, commissioned Adidas Originals Trainers (image courtesy the artist and Lisson Gallery)

CM: It’s very hard to keep across all your work!

RGHolly, do you have any pictures of trainers, please? Just to show…So it’s a different marker of success; it’s one for me that was true, not intervention but infiltration. “Infiltration” sounds a bit aggressive, but it infiltrated itself, it just fell into different economies and markets and different social stratas…just different worlds of appreciation. So that worked really well. To see [the trainers] on social media, these people who got a pair and the number of people who’ve “liked” it…and it’s an artwork but it’s not an artwork working in the currencies of [the art world].

Holly (Ryan’s assistant): Those ones are called “Yo yo criticism”.

[We are looking at a pair of sparkling white sneakers that have had “mud” painted onto their soles and splashed up around the sides.]

RG: They’re made with PVC and they’re all hand-painted, so they’re all different…But it’s that thing about [rave culture]. Because I’m from the North West, where Rave culture came about. The Indie scene—the Stone Roses, Happy Mondays—everything’s from that place: Wigan, Warrington, Chester, Liverpool, Manchester. So [Yo yo criticism] is based on the notion that kids would get their trainers and they would make sure they were completely white and perfect, and if you got a bit of mud on them, you’d be really unhappy. And that transition now to the culture of going to festivals—and in my opinion there’s nothing more mainstream than going to a festival, is there? And getting mud on your wellies, or whatever—it’s kind of a marker or signifier of that range of your social activity. And then these [pointing to a detail] are shadows, hand-drawn, so when you look at them from one side you see pencil drawing shading.

…And from the other side you don’t see anything, just the normal trainers. So, wherever you are the light is always in the same position. So yes, the mark of success is always moving, depending on what you’re doing and, as you said, who the audience is, what the context is. It’s that thing about design as well, you know when you are given a commission or you’re restricted in some way or you make compromises, or do public commissions, or consultancy work, or things in public spaces, or things with a different audience, they’re almost harder but more exciting.

An interesting problem

RG: Think of Bob Gill [influential U.S. graphic designer and co-founder of Pentagram design firm]. He said something like “the harder the problem the better the work” or something. [“Unless you can begin with an interesting problem, it is unlikely you will end up with an interesting solution.”]

There’s nothing easier than being an artist and making studio work for the art market, because your parameters are very slender, the rules of engagement are all set in stone. It’s quite easy for someone who’s very creative to be financially, commercially successful in the art world. Damien Hirst has done it, Jeff Koon’s done it—they’re not amazing artists, they’re just creative thinkers. It is creative thought, but if you’re good with visual language and you understand the social dynamics of the art world, it’s quite easy to make a lot of money. It doesn’t necessarily make great work.

CM: A lot of work just looks the same. There’s a lot of repetition and there’s also a lot of ignorance in the art world, because if you start delving down into things, you find the work that’s being presented as new this year in London—

RG: Yes.

CM: Well, you can find something extremely similar to it produced in the 70s in Los Angeles, for instance.

RG: Yes, yes.

CM. So that’s a matter of context as well.

RG: That’s because the rules of engagement are so finite, so narrow—there’s not a lot of space to move in the art world.

CM: It’s not just the art word—it’s the same problem facing novels, it’s the same problems facing many who make music.

RG: Some of my most unsuccessful works are the ones that—commercially most unsuccessful—well, there was a work that I did about 5 years ago called “The Sitting”, where I wrote a book that you would fill in, and it was a series of questions, so a page would be perfumed and you were asked what it reminded you of, and you were asked to send me a bunch of flowers on page 47, and send me postcards at different moments in the book. And it took about 6 months to fill it in. It was a big, laborious thing to fill in, with different word association games and questions about the last dinner you cooked at your house and who was there and all these things, with the idea that it was a portrait that I would make of someone. So the book was the [portrait] “sitting” and I was making a conceptual portrait of their persona perceived by me from reading the information in the book. So the sitting was the book, rather than me making a physical representation, which is just a stupid idea, because you could just look at the person anyway, why would you need something like that? It’s totally illogical…

CM: Well, Warhol’s socialite extravaganza? [“Ethel Scull 36 Times”, 1963, MoMA collection]

RG: I mean, painting’s pretty illogical, when you think about it…spreading oil on a bit of material—that just doesn’t make any sense at all, really. So every [portrait] that I make is called “a portrait of blah blah blah”, whoever the person is who’s commissioned it, and they have six months to fill the book in. They give the book back; I read it and produce a work that is a portrait of them. And each work is different. One’s a toilet roll that’s doused in perfume that I’ve had designed. Another work is twelve photographs of mirrors that are distributed around the person’s house. Another one was a huge word-search vinyl on the wall in mirror image—they were all massively different works.

CM: In the sense of being successful or commercially successful?

RG: Well, it’s successful in so far as the only people that commission it are really kick-ass collectors who have loads of integrity and are really interesting. Because they have to contribute so much time to the process—they make half the work, essentially. And you have to trust me so much, because there’s so much personal information that’s disclosed in the book. And they get the book back but I get to read it, so…

CM: God, I’d say yes!

Ryan Gander, “Are you naked too?,” drawings (pastel an paper), display stand, 162 x 43.5 x 43.5 cm (display stand), 22.2 x 35.2 cm (drawings), 2011. Courtesy: The artist and Johnen Galerie, Berlin. Photo: © Jens Ziehe

RG: Well, a lot of collectors have someone to choose the work for them, don’t they, because they don’t have enough time.

CM: —it’s laziness, a lot of it.

RG: Yes, well, you know, it takes time to spend money as well. I think some people in the world have so much money they don’t have enough time [to spend it]. Financially it wasn’t successful because it’s one of those projects that are like a loss-leader. Some things that I do that make money pay for the other things, for example the radio play I wanted to make but that no one would ever buy. Or the cocktail book—artists’ cocktails—that I always wanted to do, cocktails invented by artists, which obviously doesn’t make any money.

CM: (Laughs) It doesn’t make any sense, but it’s great.

RG: Right! I always wanted to see it exist. So some things pay for other things, financially. —“The Sitting”? Well, just with the amount of labor in these portraits, I probably lose about 15 grand every time I do one.

CM: Jesus….

RG: But they’re great to do. Really challenging. You know, the point isn’t to make loads of money and be as famous as possible, but to make some shit and make some mistakes and throw stuff out and learn. I’m an exercise artist, in a way, or maybe I think of myself as an exercise artist. Everything’s an investigation, because you don’t know how it’s going to work out. I organized a writing syndicate ten years ago to make a novel and that led me on to different ways of using economics to make art. So a similar idea that I’ve had [and] I’m still processing, is to do [subscription shopping for art]. You know there is a service popularly known as subscription shopping? —Because people have advisers for everything?

CM: Yes.

RG: And they have become quite successful; you can get a beer subscription or an Indian cooking recipe ingredients subscription: you pay a fee and they send you stuff every month. I thought about how art would work by subscription, because that’s the same as having an art adviser, in a way. And would it be to offer at auction a contract to receive 12 works over 24 months, say, to the estimated value of the sale, and then they get what they’re given?

CM: That would be tricky—how would you work out the valuation?

RG: Well, just based on all the other work I guess, individually—that’s just logical economics, I think—but I like the idea because essentially you’re not just getting a series of art works; you’re getting a collection that’s made by the artist.

Being a magician

RG: A lot of what I’ve been doing over the last maybe 5 or 6 years is to make loads of works—a lot of work. I mean, you know how everyone’s against flooding the market with work? You have to make the same thing, your stylistic signature, and you can only make seven a year—that’s how you make the most money. I’ve been making [lots of work, including] four or five big works a year for half a decade, with the idea…

CM: Which is good, isn’t it?

RG: I enjoy making work—that’s one reason—but the other reason is, I’ve always liked the idea that I could self-curate things, where there are enough works and components I could use as a sort of toolkit or as a “palette”. Because you make the art, and then you can make exhibitions, and then you can [curate it]—and your practice has these three tiers, and then they get bigger. And you [gather up] a substantial amount of work varying in medium, size, content, and articulation, enough to be able to make a decent exhibition. Otherwise you end up with a show of paintings that are all 2 meters square, with a lot of burnt sienna on them or whatever, and it’s not an interesting exhibition.

CM: Well you also make very small, subtle works. One of the ones I like is at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin.

RG: Oh yes, the wheel…fallen off, yes. [“The Artwork Nobody Knows”, 2011]

CM: It’s a pity that it has to be on a pedestal.

RG: Yes I know, it should just be on the floor.

Ryan Gander, “The Artwork Nobody Knows,” polyurethane, Styrol, Neodymion-Magnet,
Lackfarbe, 140 x 140 x 15 cm (plinth), 15 x 7 x 5 cm (figur), 2011.Courtesy: Stiftung des Vereins der Freunde der Nationalgalerie für zeitgenössische Kunst. Photo: © Ken Adlard

CM: Exactly. But when you walk in to Hamburger Bahnhof and its—

RG: —I’ve not seen it there. I’ve seen loads of pictures of it there, and everyone says how good it looks. Perhaps that’s a weird work, that you thought that of, because I like it the least of all the works I’ve made. I didn’t see it happening but everyone actually relates it to disability. I have a massive aversion to making art that’s related to disability because (a) it’s not interesting to make work about “self” in that way, and (b) other artists that make work about “self” in that way, their identity, I’m heavily critical of, because it’s quite egocentric and uninteresting. I make work because I’m interested in visual language and I’m interested in becoming so eloquent at it, controlling every idiosyncrasy and intonation of the voice and everything—being a poet with visual language—being able to go into a situation with no tools or materials and think your way, using everything you know about visual language, into a really creative reaction to that situation. I mean that’s magical, isn’t it? It’s like being a magician.

Ryan Gander “I need some meaning I can memorise, (The Invisible Pull)”, installation, 2012 at Documenta, Kassel (image courtesy the artist and Lisson Gallery)

A breeze on the back of the neck

CM: Well, that brings up your Documenta work. Because you’ve appropriated nothing—did you make the breeze? I don’t even want to know the real answer.

RG: Yes, yes.

CM: Whether you did or you didn’t. [Laughs]

RG: A lot of people say the same—a lot of people ask if I just opened the window, but it cost over 200,000 pounds to make it.


RG: The production? Yes, there were two rooms built at the back of the museum. There were turbines and they were sound proofed, and then the air supply was tubed [connected] to the windows, and the windows were soundproofed. Then all the air-conditioning ducts had to be blocked, and all the cracks. Essentially it’s a vacuum and if you had any leaks, you lose a lot of [air] pressure. I worked with the university in Bonn on it for 3 years. They do studies for shopping centers to determine where smoke would go if there is a fire and aerodynamics tests for Boeing [airplanes]. So it was a hard thing to create, really hard. I get calls all the time from some collectors saying “we’d really like the wind piece”. Well, if you’ve got three years and a quarter of a million pounds, then…It’s funny because some people say “You turned the air conditioning on…” [wincing groan]

Ryan Gander “I need some meaning I can memorise, (The Invisible Pull)”, installation, 2012 at Documenta, Kassel (image courtesy the artist and Lisson Gallery)

CM: Well, the brilliant thing about it is the total confusion.

RG: Yes.

CM: It was impossible to know whether the breeze was being created or whether you were just saying it’s coming through the door. That was the lovely thing—you couldn’t pick it up, you couldn’t see it. Some visitors weren’t sure it was there at all. Others picked up an association about the breeze on the back of the neck with the [French revolution’s] guillotine.

RG: I wonder how it would function in a lesser context, because the context of Documenta, and the Fridericianum—the ground floor is [so particular]. The New York Tines said that it was the most expensive real estate in the art world. And it is—and I was given the whole ground floor, which is unheard of. Every Documenta there’s been arguments—if you look through the history books— arguments between Beuys and different artists, about who’s going to show there. It’s almost the Greco-Roman mentality where it wants to be the first food when you walk in or something. So the breeze worked better because of all that, and the wall, and the importance of that space. The Fridericianum hall’s atmosphere is so charged that you don’t really have to do much to make a work that is phenomenal in that space. Seems as if everyone else who’d used that space at Documenta before had actually diverted everyone’s attention from the brilliant thing that was already there. They just camouflaged something that was there, instead of highlighting it, which seemed…ironic, really. It’s just about self, rather than what was already there.

CM: Yes, well—“Look at me!”

RG: And in a weird twist of fate, my work became about self, because everyone wanted it [laughs]—it did the same thing but in a weird…unknowing way.

CM: But that will also dissipate over time. And then in the end, it will just be the breeze, and that’s lovely.

RG: It’s nice to have made a masterwork or genius piece because I’ve never…I don’t really go in for making “genius pieces”. It’s funny that one happened without me trying. It’s nice though, isn’t it? It’s a thing to do in your life, to say that I made that work.

[CM: Mental note for rest of life—make genius piece]

Ryan Gander, “Fallen through history,” wall plugs and dust, 8 x 122 cm, 2015. Courtesy: The artist and Esther Schipper, Berlin. Photo: © Andrea Rossetti

CM: Well, it’s very hard to make a genius piece [laughing]—by definition!

RG: You probably only get to make it when you’re not trying, maybe. That’s creativity, isn’t it? That’s visual language and that’s what I’m learning about, that’s why I’m doing all this: that ability to think, flash-fire thinking and the wrong-way-round thinking.

CM: So there were three pieces in total and I found the second one, the one with Charlie Mingus’ recording…

RG: Yes, the porthole—no, “Escape Hatch to Culture Field”.

CM: Yes! I didn’t find the third. I was wondering around with my two small children trying to find it.

RG: And the other one was an actor or an actress in the Orangery—the café. [I Had a Message from the Curator]

CM: Ah, then I did see it! [Laughs]

RG: But you might not have! Everyone says they saw it, but I did workshops with about 30 actors and actresses and they were all different ages and different nationalities—they didn’t all speak German—different races, and there wasn’t any true description of who was artificial in the situation and what part of it, the Orangery café, was staged. But there was part of it that was staged. [The actors] were each told that they were a scriptwriter writing a screenplay for a Hollywood movie about a writer who sits in café. So there was this illogical, circular…

CM: I hadn’t noticed it; my wife noticed it.

RG: Oh really?

CM: And she said, “surely that’s one of your artists there”.

RG: It’s funny because a lot of people said they had found it, and then they sent me an image and I said, “no, I haven’t seen that person”…Because at Documenta everyone sits on their own writing in a moleskine notebook, you know?

CM: (Laughs) You have to: it’s ordained by fiat!

RG: I enjoyed doing Documenta a lot. Things like that don’t come along that often. As my wife said to me—I was probably moaning to her about wanting to do a show at MoMA or something really arrogant—“Yes but how long are you going to make art for if you do everything now?” There are things that only come every two or three years, because there’s not lots and lots of them. Just enjoy them when they come along.

CM: Yes, you’ve got to hang on for a long, long time. [Laughs]

RG: I can’t keep saying I’m still really young when I don’t feel that young.

Ryan Gander, “A lamp made by the artist for his wife (Forty fourth attempt),” colanders, electrical components, 50 x 50 x 50 cm, 2014. Courtesy: The artist and Johnen Galerie, Berlin. Photo: © Otto Saxinger

The best painter for me is Fontana

CM: There are still a couple of things I’d like to talk about. One is the painting…

RG: —The paintings or painting in general?

CM: What you’re doing with painting. These are sort of critiques of paintings—they’re games with paintings.

RG: The best painter for me is Fontana, because his first work was a conceptual artwork about how obscure actual painting is. And I’ve sometimes used that example when I taught art. I used to do this a lot: I had the students imagine they were aliens, devoid of all knowledge of the world and they’re confronted by an artwork. And it’s a good way to really look at what an artwork is in its bare bones, from its zero point, without all the contextual baggage and all our learned hang-ups and stuff. And if you imagine you’re a Martian and you came across someone painting, it’s just totally incomprehensible what the act is, to spread colored oil over a piece of fabric which is pulled taut over a wooden structure. I think that’s a really interesting image, you know? For a Martian, a caveman painting on a wall makes more sense.

CM: So what’s the difference between that and something stretched on canvas and the bit of wood or whatever you’re using to mix the paints on, the palette?

RG: I find it incredulous that there are artists—who are called artists, they’re not called painters; they’re called artists—who every time they make an artwork, they don’t think of what they are doing. They go to their study and just spread oil [paint on something].

It’s your [artistic] language key stage, basic lesson No. 1: what are you doing? What is it? It’s…a piece of material stretched over a wooden structure. It just doesn’t make any sense to me that it’s not questioned—that someone would just go, “oh yes, it’s a painting and I’m a painter and that’s what I do.” Because logically, if you think that everyone is using their brains to their full ability and their intellect and their knowledge of the history of art, and that they are so acutely fluent in visual language, you wouldn’t find anyone making paintings that way, apart from the people who are making historical intervention in the history of painting. You could say that actually the intelligent artists—anyone who’s using oil on canvas—primarily their work is about the history of painting.

CM: How could it be about something else?

RG: It couldn’t be about anything else—just as when I make a photograph, I understand that it’s a photograph. And if you make a slide presentation of 35 mm color slides, you’re using celluloid and there’s a horrible nostalgia in that, and a validation through association with all the conceptual artists who previously used slides. You are associating yourself with that because you want to appropriate the currency of conceptual art historically. Right—but nobody thinks about these things at all: that every work that you make should start with the first question. I mean, that’s being intelligent. That’s being a fluent visual linguist. A few [are like this]—Pierre Huyghe’s pretty good at that. But then there are the other people just doing the same thing again and again and it doesn’t ring true with what it is to be an artist.

CM: There’s lots of that—there’s tons of that.

RG: Most people just make the same work during their lives.

CM: And they do it again and again. This is why this is interesting—why do it when you don’t have to? This is something that in the past 20 years has been demonstrated. A number of artists have emerged [Huyghe, Parreno], and there’s actually not a lot connecting them, saying, “well, I’m just going to experiment with whatever takes my interest”.

RG: Yes.

CM: And that’s produced incredibly diverse, vibrant, provocative work.

RG: That should be the history of art.

CM: Exactly.

Ryan Gander, “Hokusai’s Blues,” cyanotype, screen print with natural indigo pigment, Saunders 638g paper, 135 x 195 cm, 2014. © Ryan Gander; image courtesy of STPI

RG: If I had any power over anything, it would be that those artists that are true innovators and true explorers and pioneers would be the only ones recorded in history. And all the others…because its blatant that the people that produce certain things again and again with heavy stylistic signatures are producing it to line their pockets and their egos and not to push visual language forward.

CM: And it undermines whatever they started off with anyway.

RG: I mean even if they make good work in the beginning, it’s sort of stigmatized and a bit tired, isn’t it? I know loads of artists like that. When I was—I’m not going to say [who], obviously—but when I was at college, there were artists I loved and I would dream of going to London to see a show of theirs. And then you look at what they’re doing now and they’re doing exactly the same thing that they were doing 20 years ago. You think, Jesus Christ, why don’t they go and work in a factory? Go and clean the toilets at Costa [a café chain]—the same toilet every day and see if it works, because it’s just a repetitive task.

CM: Well you don’t have to, because at a certain pit you’ve got enough money.

RG: Also surely people must have some respect for your intellect and your ability to ad lib, you know? Even if it’s not people with money. Still, the world’s still full of very intelligent people who enjoy being challenged—it might work for them.

CM: What’s the point? You were talking about poetry before—this is the really interesting side of where art is going. It’s art as a poetic accompaniment to life. It’s something you use to make sense of life and to live life.

RG: Yes.

CM: I know that sounds bullshit but it is to get away from this business of acquiring a mass of stuff, and ticking it off the list.

RG: Yes, exactly.

CM: It is kind of nice, when you take this approach, because then you don’t have an oeuvre. What is a Ryan Gander work? It doesn’t really matter.

RG: Some people have said that my oeuvre is the fact that I don’t have one; the fact that people can now spot my work because—someone said this to me—you can spot my work because when you went somewhere, and there was something that was interesting but you couldn’t place who made it, it was probably me. And that was how you’d identify my work [laughs].

I was quite happy with that description though—it seemed a nice…”stylistic signature”, if you have to have one.

CM: I agree.

RG: Or maybe I’m not trying hard enough. I need to make it even more difficult…

CM: I think you’re even more consistent than other artists in this regard. You’re really using yourself—you’re trying not to do the same thing again and again. And the fact that you’re engaged with writing and script writing—doing many different things.

RG: It’s a great job though.

CM: It’s a terrific job!

RG: Really great. Very lucky.

A guy called Mario Garcia Torres

CM: So what’s the new exhibition? What’s going to happen in Mexico?

RG: Mm, there’s a guy called Mario Garcia Torres and we make quite similar work. His is more traditionally conceptual and it also plays with revisiting identities of artists from the 70s and riffing off them. I’ve known him for years and years and we’re really good friends. We made a few works together and he’s one of those people—a lot of my friends who are artists, you maybe just see them once a year at an art fair, because they live in Madrid or Mexico city, or wherever—

CM: Its interesting you see them at an art fair rather than—

RG: I complain about art fairs but I quite like the fact that you get to see some of your friends that you never see because it’s like a communal meeting ground.

Ryan Gander, “Not even to be trusted with a paper clip,” digital print on blue backed paper
ca. 3.65 x 13 cm, dimensions variable, 2011. Courtesy: The artist and Johnen Galerie, Berlin. Photo: © Jens Ziehe

So we’re doing a two-person show and all the works are collaborative or are responsive to each other’s works. For one work we chose a work that we’d made that was unsold, that we thought that the other person would enjoy, and we gifted it to them—swapped papers, certificates. And then without telling each other, we’d do something with the work to produce another work that we then both show and surprise each other with. But these works that are made are collaborative—they’re by me and Mario—joint works.

CM: And you don’t tell anyone which bits you did and which bits he did?

RG: We don’t know what each other’s doing or undoing—he might burn mine or send it to auction…we don’t know. So I’ve just shown him the work that he’s given me, but next to it I’ve put—you know when you get a degree you get a certificate from the university? So I was made an honorary doctor from Manchester University for, oh I don’t know, some ridiculous reason, something like outstanding contribution to the realm of conceptual art…something like that, which my mum was dead proud of obviously. So you get this certificate thing and I thought, ah, that’s quite funny, I’ll have that framed and put it in my study at home—you know, how you see in the movies. And I got it and I thought, god this is crass and embarrassing and it just sat on a bookshelf, turned away so I wouldn’t be reminded of it.

So I wrote a letter to Mario over the top of the certificate, about professional jealously and positive jealousy, and structures of power in the institutions of art, which also relates to the slideshow that he’s given me—they’re showing side by side—and it ends with something like: positive jealousy amongst artists is when you’re sitting in the pub next to someone and you feel a massive urgency to go to the studio because you know what they’re doing is more interesting than what you are. [appropriately a U2 anthem is moaning inspirationally in the background] And then it says “I look forward to having a drink with you in Mexico City”. Except where it says “you”, I’ve crossed it out and written “us”, so you don’t know if I’m insinuating he’s better or not!

CM: [Laughs]

RG: So that’s one work. I think we made the whole show in three or four weeks. We were in Miami together—we had a couple of drinks and talked about it, and then the rest has just been emailing. He’ll be getting up about now and there’ll be a load of emails from him. We made 16 works just over email. We’ve been making some here and he’s been making some with people his end.

CM: They outline the discussion or in the product?

RG: For me it’s in—you know, I think a lot of ambitious people suffer from not enjoying their lives enough, because they’re always living in the future, because they’re planners. And you know when you’re really drunk, you live in the moment, and you’re really happy because you’re not thinking about the future or the past. And I suffer from that greatly. Doing this show is like being a kid, because I get to make a show super quick, super responsively, so its light on its feet and there’s a slight of hand that it’s making, and it gives me a chance for my brain to just go super-charged quick, and when you don’t think about things for too long, really great things [can] happen. Also, a lot of great artworks come from people telling me what it is that they’re looking at, because I can’t see, because I’m too close to it.

So actually collaborating for both of us is a great thing. He made this video with stop-footage of someone smoking, and a script. So we’re making this together and my only contribution to the production is sending him the video of the hamlet cigar advert where his wig falls off, and saying “no, you’ve nailed it, it’s perfect the way it is; let’s just do it, it’s totally ambiguous and weird, don’t overdo it.” So, the contribution could be tiny.

And then we’ve been making these LSD prints where—you know LSD comes in torn, cute little squares—they’re sheets of color and the colors are from a Donovan song, and then they’re just LSD but it’s based on the currency rate of LSD in Mexico City, so you have to buy 600 LSDs, which is the price of the artwork.

CM: That’s going to be interesting exporting.

RG: It’s not LSD, it’s just a piece of cardboard! [laughs] So it’s alright—just a bit of paper, a big bit of paper with dots on it. That took about ten days to make—just great that it exists.

CM: You wouldn’t have a qualm with actual LSD, I’m sure…

RG: No, well, no, I’m not getting involved in that! —I’ll never get home, will I? Got LSD on my fingers…would be a nightmare. Customs…

CM: [Laughing] “It’s art.”

Ryan Gander, “Things I have to remember to keep smiling,” black and white photo, framed, 120 x 120 cm, 2011. Courtesy: The artist and Johnen Galerie, Berlin. Photo: © Jens Ziehe

Ryan Gander, “Seriously Retinal / Serious Poke (ficus elastica),” relief print from French curves on STPI handmade cotton paper , 132.5 x 166.5 cm, 2015

Ryan Gander, “Am I naked too?,” architectural intervention, 31.7 x 25 cm, 2011. Courtesy: The artist and Johnen Galerie, Berlin. Photo: © Jens Ziehe

Ryan Gander, “Portrait of a blind artist obscured by flowers,” 4 colour offset lithography on Fabriano paper, 76 x 57 cm, 2014.

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