The Way In Which It Landed
Tate Britain, London, UK
Ryan Gander’s projects as an artist – and now, with ‘The Way in Which it Landed’, as a curator – often feel like the tricks, puzzles and riddles of a benign but infuriating uncle. His approach has the power to return me to childhood, to the mad frustration of learning that the coin isn’t in the other hand either, that there isn’t a correct solution, or if there is, the person who knows it prefers to watch you wriggle rather than spill the beans.
For Tate Britain’s Art Now space, Gander has delivered a wily two-part conundrum of an exhibition. The first part consists of 16 paintings and photographs from Tate’s collection, hung in the exact same configuration that Gander found them on a display panel in the Tate storage vaults. The ostensibly random selection thus sees a large dark photo-work by Boyd Webb brooding beneath Stanley Spencer’s spring-fresh Terry’s Lane, Cookham (1933), and the wrinkled yellow swimming costume of the girl in Rineke Dijkstra’s now iconic Kolobrzeg, Poland, July 26 1992 (1992) crackling with an intensity that its neighbour, a sludgy Maurice Utrillo from 1910, clearly lacks.
Happenstance comparisons can of course also expose hitherto unrevealed nuances in and allegiances between images. I tried to see some; I failed. Before trying harder I began to wonder whether I really wanted to – whether there was anything meaningful in such an endeavour or whether the essential truth of the configuration was its randomness, its lack of meaning. Maybe meaning here was a trick, an illusion. In the exhibition guide, artist Lucy Clout acknowledges the ‘fine line between a red herring and its malicious cousin the “wild goose chase”’. I started thinking of enraging uncles again.
Clout’s own work is amongst the strongest in the second side of the exhibition-puzzle: work by five youngish artists who Gander admires, installed around and in front of the wall of pictures from the collection. Perhaps you might expect them to respond to Gander’s haphazard art history lesson; in fact they are all so self-assured that they seem to be ignoring it like a class of determinedly wayward children. Only Aurélien Froment, whose video Théâtre de poche (Pocket Theatre, 2007) is placed in the entrance to the space, answers in direct terms, in his case by conducting his own elegant and entrancing lecture-come-magic show in which he moves disparate found images around on a glass screen.
Clout’s most effective contribution was a grey screen, only about a foot high but as wide as the entrance to the gallery, which hung on a pulley at exactly face-height, obscuring the most crucial part of the view into and out of the space. It neatly kicked off a sequence of meditations on looking and not seeing, and seeing without looking, that passed between the works on show. Even though Gander assures us in the accompanying literature that the work of these five artists ‘has nothing in common’, his own fondness for obfuscation and emergent associations is evident in Carol Bove and David Renggli’s collages, or Clout’s unsettling assemblage of found material (rolls of tape, potatoes and a newspaper feature on giant pigs). Nathaniel Mellors gets the last laugh with Thinking Rock Speaks (2008), a lump of alabaster spouting an empty steel speech bubble. Sometimes there really is just nothing to say.
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