The Serpentine Gallery summer pavilion, designed by Rem Koolhaas, was the venue for an ambitious programme of talks and events organized by the gallery’s curator, Hans-Ulrich Obrist. Although presented in stupefying mid-1990s’ jargon – the pavilion, for example, is a ‘content-producing machine’, which produces this content through ‘conversation’ – the programme has been a real bonanza, regularly bringing a variety of artists and intellectuals into the public eye. Perhaps because of their sheer number, events – from the 24-hour marathon of talks to the launch of Hearing Voices, Seeing Things, a publication documenting two years of artists’ residencies and projects at the North East London Mental Health Trust – have gone ahead with a degree of disorganization, which lends them an appealing informality.
‘Monologue Night’, with the British artists Roger Hiorns and Ryan Gander, followed in the same spirit. The audience was integral to Hiorns’ monologue, which played catch-as-catch-can with the listeners’ comprehension, while Gander’s lecture was casual and forthright. The programme’s jargon, and the nightclub-circa-1999 cameras and plasma screens of Koolhaas’ bubble, suddenly felt neither outdated nor aggressively new but comfortably familiar.
The audience comprised interested punters, the artists’ friends and two confused Czech tourists. Hiorns, who is best known for his sculptural work, asked an actor to recite his monologue, entitled ‘Benign’. The text was also used for the voice-over to his film of the same name, shown as one of the Frieze commissions for The Artists Cinema in 2005, where its juxtaposition with the slow-moving and unrelated images on screen intentionally made it impossible to concentrate on the chronicle. Here again the story – of children growing up among milky weeds and quicksilver light – was rendered deliberately opaque by its mode of delivery. The actor sat with his back to the audience, intoning the monologue in a flat pace with neither crescendo nor quaver to distinguish moments of emotion or tension. The audience’s attention drifted in and out, like a performative enactment of the story’s own repetitions and unfinished anecdotes.
Gander winningly delivered a lecture called ‘On Honesty’, in which he confessed to regrets, failures and lies that he has told to policemen, mattress sellers, collectors and the general public. Many of the examples were projects of his that had disappointed him – for instance, an attempt to cover a building in a small Dutch town in blue and yellow flowers (the optimistic colours of the EU), which ended up with the building covered in pigeon poop. Gander’s interest in these deceptions and disappointments lay in the idea of their being moments when things could have gone differently – what would have happened if he had opened an envelope taped to a bank in Brighton; what would have happened had he not faked a story; what would have happened if a work had succeeded. This ‘what if’ question is built into our idea of regret, but lies seem to hurtle past any fork in the path. It’s nice to think of honesty as simply the road not taken, especially if you can so charmingly come clean.