Ryan Gander Has Made a Snow Globe That Never Stops Snowing
The artist's new Lisson Gallery show plays fast and loose with time, space, and the limits of the object.
Ryan Gander, The Self Righting of All Things, 2018. © Ryan Gander. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery. Photo: Jack Hems
Some months ago, in the English university town of Cambridge, artist Ryan Gander met Hungarian scientist Gábor Domokos for a chat over lunch. Gander was interested in the gömböc, a self-righting three-dimensional shape identified by Domokos in 2006. Domokos speaks the language of maths and physics, and Gander the language of art and the social sciences, so the former’s words acquired unintentional poetry in the mind of the latter. As Domokos described how mass inequalities were balanced in a gömböc, Gander thought not of the “solid, tangible logic-based world his mind was in,” but strayed to the global distribution of wealth and want.
Some months later, Gander was in a gallery he had transformed into the lower portion of an hourglass—an object described by the artist as “a portal between time and space”—with a stream of black volcanic sand trickling in through a hole in the ceiling. This had formed a mound among the large gömböcs carved in Portland stone, reflecting the placement of the nymph sculptures above, and would, by the end of the exhibition, partly conceal them, rendering them just seven more stones on a beach.
Domokos is one of several pivotal influences cited by Gander for his current London exhibition The Self Righting of All Things. Others are the linguistically dexterous British novelist Will Self; the painting Hylas and the Nymphs by John William Waterhouse; Gander’s daughter Olive, with whom he developed a font from shaped stones found on the local beach; and his dad. Themed around time, decay, and flux, the exhibition’s central work, Notes on Nothing—Watching Oneself Fall, is a large suspended cube covered in moving flip dots, like an old train station display board. “It reminds me of an alien clock,” the artist told GARAGE. “It makes me think of time in a different way.”
Also keeping time is a recording of 25 texts written and read by Gander, each one addressing the theme of deterioration. In one, a woman realizes that the stock in her local village store has switched from health food products to aids for the elderly: she, along with her community, is aging and the eternal life promised by faddy foodstuffs has failed to materialize. In another, the artist, who uses a wheelchair, wakes up hungover one morning in a strange hotel and develops a claustrophobic panic when he mistakenly imagines that his only exit route—the lift door—lacks control buttons.
“I like it that you can talk about the same thing from different perspectives,” said Gander. “Whether that’s physical deterioration, or the deterioration of art over time. Artists often get upset when a work deteriorates, but to me, a broken work is still a work. I don’t really care about the ‘thing,’ because the idea still exists.” It’s a philosophical worldview that Gander has perhaps inherited from his father, whose motto “Let the world take a turn” is now immortalized on an exhibition poster.
The sand for the hourglass starts its passage on Lisson Gallery’s first floor, partially covering seven stone sculptures of John Waterhouse’s nymphs. A 3-D rendering of the sinister seduction fable portrayed in Hylas and the Nymphs, the Pre-Raphaelite work, with its near-identical topless female figures, is unfashionable, and has been controversial. Nevertheless, it is, Gander pointed out, “the most popular painting in Manchester Art Gallery—the kids love it because of Jason and the Argonauts.”
Like a giant version of those conceal-and-reveal pens that make the clothes fall off an illustration of a woman when you tilt them, the trickling sand of the hourglass will, at some point, leave the topless water nymphs exposed. No such revelation is afforded by A snow globe that never stops snowing (Noting changes in the placement of objects) that, true to its name, is a large glass globe in which the snowflakes never settle, and the object at its center never shown. “A lot of the work has absence in it, like being stuck in a place imagining what’s behind a door,” said Gander, who compares art to a gym for the mind. “When you’re given everything, you just walk on: it’s boring.”
Ryan Gander: The Self Righting of All Things is on view at Lisson Gallery, London, through April 21.