The title of Ryan Gander’s new Artangel commission, Locked Room Scenario, was the first indication that the project was going to be characteristically difficult to grasp. Known for interweaving multiple reference points, charting webs of associative links and incorporating anecdotal narratives, Gander can be cerebrally exhausting.
Locked Room Scenario took place in a warehouse in London’s East End. Upon entering the building, visitors roamed darkened hallways looking for the show. However, at each turn, they were confronted with locked doors and windows obscured by drawn blinds. By straining to see through a frosted glass panel or crouching to peek through an incompletely drawn blind, they caught partial views of artwork, such as sculptures shrouded in transport blankets, a wooden table crowded with photographic images mounted on board and a colorful painting of a woman. The sounds of a projector could be heard, but the projection remained out of sight.
At some point, while “looking” for the artwork, visitors realized that they were already in it, and the purposefully weird blue carpets running halfway up the walls in the corridors acquired a new significance. The fact that the obstacles to understanding were physical as well as interpretive was refreshing.
To attend Locked Room Scenario, one had to book in advance, because only a certain number of people were allowed in at once. The booking process and prearranged time were more akin to the experience of attending theater, and there was certainly an element of performance to the work. Blocking the entrance into the building, an East London hipster in skinny jeans and a stripy top refused to move aside. He shouted, “Don’t step on my shit!” Only the brazen and strong-willed persevered.
The project is somewhat reminiscent of previous Artangel commissions, such as Gregor Schneider’s Die Familie Schneider (2004), but the circuitous linguistic wordplay makes this one particularly Gander. Clues, notes and abandoned diagrams popped up in various places. A handwritten note stuck to a window seemed to deliver a coded message: “Before he passed he said the work was empty.” For viewers familiar with Gander’s previous work—its play on the deficiency of meaning in art and its exaltation of context—the message reverberated with every unexpected twist through the dark space. Elsewhere slides projected through a hole in the corridor wall presented cryptic sentence fragments and abstract circular shapes.
Near the exit to the building, in a lit hallway next to a locked door, a sign was displayed reading “The Field of Meaning”—the title of the exhibition that could not be accessed. Visitors drew together the information they had gathered about the exhibition and left with an individual understanding of the show—leading to the conclusion that the assignment of meaning is not impossible, but infinite.
Photo: View of Ryan Gander’s installation Locked Room Scenario, 2011; at Londonewcastle Depot.