Artist Ryan Gander talks to Northern Soul
Through it, the artist wanted, he says, “to explore my interest in stories, the way objects can act as vessels for narratives and the possibilities presented by the imagination”.
Bringing together many works previously unseen in the UK or made specifically for this exhibition, the self-curated show was especially important to Chester-born Gander because this is the city where he studied for his undergraduate degree, at MMU, and so it has a special place in his heart.
“It’s not a homecoming, that sounds a bit mad,” he laughs, “but I’m glad I’m doing it here and not in London. This is where I wanted it to come to.”
It’s also significant that he curated it himself, he acknowledges.
“I’ve made probably about four and a half thousand works and when you’ve made that many works you become quite in tune with making art and fluent in the language. Then, making individual works loses its challenge a bit, so producing exhibitions is way more interesting and challenging.
“Seven works go to each venue as the touring show but some works I take out, some works I add, depending on the venue. Here it’s quite extensive and I spent more time on it because I was excited to do it here.
“The new pieces,” he explains, “were all made in the same year and conceived in the year before to be shown together, so that there’s a diversity in the experience of walking around it. They don’t follow the same style or a theme so acutely that it’s boring.”
The works on display highlight Gander’s multidisciplinary process, ranging from paintings, sculpture, film, photography, installations, and slideshows, to Imagineering, a TV commercial in the gallery space, and an advertising campaign on the streets of Manchester, aimed at encouraging imagination among the British population. Commissioned by Gander and designed and produced by Kirke and Hodgson Advertising, the artist plays the role of the Government’s Department for Business, Innovation & Skills and imagines an alternative reality to our current political and creative climate, one in which the Government actually has an ambition to promote creativity in the British psyche.
“It’s really difficult to give creative control to creative professionals when you’re in the creative industry yourself,” he admits of that particular process. “But the advertising campaign’s objective is to promote creative behaviour in everybody. So then, in the process of making it to restrict myself to no creative behaviour, it’s just a super contradiction in itself. The work can only succeed as a conceptual entity, so it wouldn’t matter if the advert was shit or really good, if it made you happy or didn’t make you happy. The only thing that was important is that I’d set these rules that the advertising agency would make all the decisions and I would sit back and say ‘whatever you do is right, because you’re the professionals’. So, yes, it’s nice that it makes some people well up or really excited but that’s their job, that’s what they do, isn’t it?”
Another exciting exclusive to the Manchester Art Gallery is the latest work of his Degas’s Dancer series The Retinal Account, or And when you are older you will go away, You’ll see injustice and you’ll see pain. Gander, who has long been interested in the reinterpretation of iconic figures in art, has worked with Degas’s Dancer since 2008, enabling the female figure to step down from her plinth, remove her tutu and explore the exhibition space that surrounds her. With each new staging, the dancer’s position in art history is questioned as she attempts to make a transition from modern to contemporary.
Also specifically inviting the viewer to use their imagination is Tank with ‘Entrance to a Clearing’, which takes the form of a framed glass window leading to a forest. The fictional scene viewed from the window shows a place that Gander refers to as a ‘Culturefield’.
“Culturefield,” he divulges, “is an imaginary state or place that I actually dreamt. It’s behind the fence at the bottom of the playing fields at Millview Primary School in Upton, Chester. It’s not, that’s someone’s garden probably, but in my dream that’s where it is. You climb over the fence and you go through some woods and a hill until you get to a meadow with a stream in it and lots of really interesting thinkers and creative people there.
“That’s it physically described but to me it’s also a bit like a state of being, where you keep that valve in your head that’s either open, partially open or closed. I don’t know where the valve is or what it’s called, and there probably isn’t a valve in your head, but I imagine that when it’s fully open you see and take note of things that you wouldn’t usually see, you’re hyper-aware of social, historical, cultural codes and systems, the thousands of amazing things that creative thinking comes from.”
The ‘Culturefield’ concept is also explored in the group show at Castlefield Gallery, I Would Like to Join a Club and Hit Myself with It, which includes Porthole To Culturefield Revisited by Gander alongside related new work from a number of artists based in the North West including Robert Carter, Helen Collett, Monty, Lois MacDonald and Joe Fletcher Orr.
Meanwhile, the ferociously busy artist has also been creating a new public artwork to be unveiled in September as the centrepiece to the Beswick community hub regeneration project in East Manchester.
Entitled Dad’s Halo Effect, it will consist of three, three-metre high, polished stainless steel sculptures that represent chess pieces in a checkmate position.
“My dad worked at Vauxhall in Ellesmere Port and so he studied in Flint Michigan at GM University, and when he was in the States he was working on the chassis of Bedford trucks. He said if he’d been an artist instead of an engineer he would have produced a sculpture of two lovers based on engineering components under this truck. So I did it for him!
“Now he’s proud of it and excited by it all, but he’s also a bit pissed off because it was his idea and I just stole it. But that’s exactly what dads are for, to inspire me!
“It’s a bit of a Manchester Fest for me these few months because I’m also being made an honorary Doctor at the MMU School of Art. That’s hilarious because when I got my degree from MMU I didn’t go to the graduation ceremony. I was an arrogant art student who said that I didn’t know these people and they didn’t know my work, and why should I congratulate myself when I don’t have a job and was very political about it all. Plus, I didn’t want to look like an idiot in the gown and the hat. Now I’ve got to go and do it and my mum’s coming, so it’s like regression.”
“When you go into an art degree, you go into it knowing you’re not going to be an artist. I thought I’d be a journalist or a teacher or something. So I’m one of the lucky ones, I guess.
“But it’s also madly, madly, madly hard work and you don’t get any of that unless you have this incessant, unhealthy work ethic.
“If you want to be an artist you can’t just fluke it, it doesn’t work like that. You have to be prepared to sacrifice absolutely everything. You don’t have time to be a football fan, you don’t have time to be interested in cooking, or for anything apart from the things that are absolutely essential, basically your health and family, because you never have a minute in any day.
“So there’d be two camps, the camp that would find it inspiring and the camp that would think I was an arsehole.”
Main image: Manchester Art Gallery, Ryan Gander, Magnus Opus, 2013. Image Martin Argyroglo, courtesy Lisson Gallery
Make Every Show Like It’s Your Last is at Manchester Art Gallery until September 14, 2014; I Would Like to Join a Club and Hit Myself with It is at Castlefield Gallery until August 17, 2014
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