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Locked Room Scenario

Ryan Gander - Artangel, London

’Locked Room Scenario’ got an interesting review in the Guardian, which in the art world, doesn’t account for much but it stands as one of the few very small and narrow windows that the general public get into viewing the art circle. I got the impression that Mr. Searle felt a little disorientated by the whole thing and slightly excluded from the ’in jokes’ within it.

The article and its comments all discuss arts love for these ‘in jokes’. Graduating from art school a year ago, I am all but familiar with this ‘in joke’ debate. I watch people pride themselves on elitist symbology in aid of using knowledge as power. This was/is inevitable; university is after all an institution whose main function is to make students believe that knowledge is valuable. Each sentence, symbol, sound etc holds information which sits inside many systems and arranges itself within a hierarchy of importance. At pre-school we are taught simple concepts; the colour blue, the square, the letter a; by university these ideas and tags broaden into a much bigger and complex web. For example ‘feeling blue’ ‘square roots’ and ‘a x b = ab’. We specialise within our fields, picking up skill, terminology, and experience, all of which prepare us for the outside world. Every industry has it’s ‘isms’ ’ologys’ and ‘onomics’ and the educational system prepares every subject for her place within the advanced cogs of post-capitalism. So it is interesting to learn that Gander is charging for spectators to view this piece of work to fund a school which he aims to open because he believes art is not being taught properly in its current institutions.

In 1969, a teaching experiment took place in St. Martins which is now called ‘The year of the locked room’, where art tutors locked their students in a white room without saying anything for a whole year. Each student was given a box with their name on, and they were forced to play with the contents within it without any guidance from their tutors. Art was about no longer about specialised materiality, and the tutors were deliberating on how they were going to teach a subject which had no specific logic or medium.

Image:   Artangel – Ryan Gander  Locked Room Scenario.  Julian Abrams©
Gander’s work focuses on this inner logic and knowledge within contemporary art. He consistently references himself and the existing art world. In ‘Locked Room Scenario’ the usual components which make art up the art exhibition become the art objects themselves forcing us to look at art in context. We study the arts administration office, the invigilators, the gift shop, art history, art education etc. If we look at the show itself in context we realise that the whole thing as an object is an ‘in-joke’. Artangel is generally a privately funded organisation; its marketing straterigies make little attempt to reach any further than the art market. By charging his audience, Gander has managed to get the art market to donate and pay for the privately funded education that Gander intends to set up. This enables him to create an educational system which does not depend on state constrictions, giving him the freedom to teach art for the sake of art, not for the sake of commodity etc. Focus on this idea in relation to St. Martins ‘Year of the locked room’ and we have a good conversation going about the state of art education past and current.

In art history we have accumulated a lot of information, which has now become a playground in which art students play catch up. We go to art school to learn ‘how to make / consume / think / watch / talk / see / hear art’ and as we do this we are able to watch how our ideas and art objects evolve as our conceptual base broadens – the accumulation of our own personal/subjective information collates into our own big ‘thing’ which becomes our ‘art practice‘. In ‘Locked Room Scenario’ Gander demonstrates how these concepts emerge and evolve within art by using the idea of the ‘blue monster’ in many shapes and forms throughout the show. First we catch glimpses, then notice, then piece together, and by the end collate a body of information which all comes under the umbrella of ‘the blue monster’. The show discusses all elements surrounding art in this manner and becomes a labyrinth of puzzles that mirror post-modern artistic discourse.

If Gander is to make a piece of work that talks about art in context, then in order for that piece to be successful it must be aware of its own context within its own art world. And this is where the I believe the real beauty within this piece lies. It is very conscious of its own existence within the realms of reality. The concept of what art is, is now as complex as the inner logic inside of us. The artist/art object/exhibition/documentation etc all co-exist and feed off each other and it is very apparent that Gander is highly aware of this. Every element outside the show itself is considered; one example being rumours on twitter or for instance the marketing of the show itself in art blogs/magazines etc. Each article about ‘Locked Room Scenario’ gives away a little more information which helps solve the puzzles within it. The piece does not begin and end with entering and leaving the show (he hints at this by texts etc), just like art does not end after just standing in front of it. It is a constant flux of information which alternates within reality itself not just the gallery space. This is what makes this show so ambitious and impressive.

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