Mining unique dialogues between studied sculptural modes and coy reinterpretations of readymade material, artist Ryan Gander has long created works and environments that work delicate interactions between the human and nonhuman materials of daily life. For his newest show at Lisson Gallery, the artist explores the relationship between our evolutionary past and the ways in which we live today in societies driven by capitalist growth, speed and progress. The exhibition raises pertinent questions; how would the world look if humans had not learnt to count? How do we place value on time in a 24/7 world that demands our constant attention?
This sense of a complete disconnect between cognition and pattern recognition takes a range of ideas and modes here, Included in the exhibition is a major new animatronic installation, a new series of figurative bronze sculptures, several poetic and typographic compositions etched into steel plates, and an over-animated documentary, originally made for the BBC – all speaking to notions of the Self and of the masks each human wears as part of their daily lives.
Upon entering the gallery, viewers encounter a wall of transparent lockers containing personal effects, a corporate-looking office desk with an electric floor fan, and a digital wall clock. At second glance, all is not as it first appears. The contents of nine of the lockers are duplicated, each replicated and identically arranged across two units. The wall clock merges two displays into a single object, diverging at odd angles, creating an effect of double-vision. A strong odor of damp and urine emanates from behind the office desk, blown by the whirring fan. Slumped beneath the desktop is a life-size female gorilla. Seemingly timid, she displays a desire to learn, using fingers to notate units. The purpose of her act of recording, whether units of time, currency or an accumulation or decline of another quantity, remains unclear.
In the front and side galleries are works from a new series: Know not your place in the world (2023). Two life-size bronze figurative sculptures of the artist’s eldest and middle children are dressed up in an amalgamation of clothes, costumes and props of their own choosing, as opposed to garments suggested by function or social convention. Their gaze is fixed on a mask painted in matt and gloss colours, positioned on the floor at their feet. The sculptures relate to Gander’s investigations into ‘play’ and ‘make-believe’ as catalysts for creativity, no matter your age. This new body of work has expanded from a forthcoming permanent public commission for Elephant Park in the London Borough of Southwark, conceived and developed with the local community.
Displayed throughout the exhibition are steel plates bearing Gander’s poetic and typographic compositions. Everyday. You’re my best machine…(Ee Ouw Arh…) (2023) presents the first sounds humans learnt to make 50,000 years ago. Elsewhere in the show, a stainless steel door features a sculptural bas-relief depicting language in multiple registers, from official signage to informal markings and graffiti, as found on a door encountered by Gander and referenced in the work’s title Temporal Departures (37 St James St South, Manchester), (2023). Following fabrication, a spell is cast onto the sculpture by the artist, transforming it into a magic portal with the potential – dependent on the viewers imaginative and cognitive abilities – to transport one to a desired alternate place and time.
Throughout, Gander uses numerical values and natural signifiers as a way to distance and complicate human and nonhuman relations, arriving at a world where one must wonder to what end numerical comprehension has truly landed us.
The show closes October 28th.
– D. Creahan
Ryan Gander: PUNTO! [Exhibition Page]