New York, 5th May 2016.
Darren Flook: The Tate have a slogan for the opening of their new building attached to Tate Modern: “Art Changes. We Change.” This made me think about how art has changed, or how your practice has changed. How are things different from when you started?
Ryan Gander: I think then I was so young that I had no idea what I was doing and it was quite logical to just be like, “Oh, I have an exhibition. I have to make an artwork.” And now, structurally, it doesn’t work like that. I don’t have to do anything logistical any more. I don’t even run the studio or the company. I’m a creative director. Now, I instigate situations that work will become a fall-out of. I’ve just designed this kitchen sink, which is a proper sink that works. It’s a company and a business. But I know that the fall-out of me researching Japanese sinks and using this sink will produce art.
The thing that strikes me about London is the impact of the expense of it on a lot of young artists and art galleries. It’s become so money-obsessed. The art scene has become very conservative due to the pressure to sell.
I’m creating this show at the moment with this group of kids in Leeds. And a part of me thinks, “They won’t get a shot at anything because they all live in Leeds.” A part of me feels like saying, “Come on, guys, you’ve got one chance. Move to London and, make a go of it,” But then I think, if they go to London, they’ll just turn into arseholes. They’ll be climbing over the backs of a million other people. There’ll be this contagion of aesthetics that exists in London where everything looks exactly the same.
I go to shows in London of young artists and they’re all going through this massive phase that’s so obvious. There’s no meaning to any of the work, it’s just purely retinal. It’s like the phenomenon of having pine or palm trees in shows; or the phenomenon of the colossal amount of artworks that contain water now.
Pieces with a cartoon sticker on it?
It’s insane. Bumper stickers on artworks! Just visual stuff. It’s something like gaga baby language.
But you don’t think that that’s always been the case? I mean, I remember having a conversation in the late 90s with someone. We joked, “What would be the perfect, most stereotypical artwork now?” And we worked out it would be a leather glove holding a fake diamond on a white fur rug.
That’s perfect. Might need a scorpion or a meteorite in there as well.
Now it would be a bumper sticker on a downloaded porn image with an iPad slapped on the front? Actually, I think I bought that work.
But, you see, it’s difficult for me to not be annoyed and embittered by all that, because the premise of what I do is that’s it not merely retinal. It’s nothing to do with the way it looks.
And anything that ends up being an artwork is just a by-product of an idea that makes it happen. And I don’t really have that much control over what comes out physically, over what it looks like.
So when you’re thinking about a show, you don’t think about what it’s going to look like?
Really? Is that true?
I start with a theme or a perspective. It’s quite calculated and strategic. I usually build the show and then take things out. And make things invisible. And then make works incomplete or make them more complicated, to entertain my mind. It’s like making something very logical and then trying to make it into a puzzle.
Alex Turner said something like, “People from the North model themselves on things that they hate, not the things they like.” And what he meant by that, I think, is by knowing what you don’t like, you’re definitely not that. But it leaves everything else open for things you could be. But if there’s something that you like and you emulate that, you just become their carbon clone.
You need your own motivation that goes beyond any idea of success or career.
There is a massive fickleness in the art world so it has to be interesting for yourself or it’s not going to be interesting to other people. Considering artists are meant to be very, very creative and inventive, because their occupation, most artists are in fact massive conformists. When you go and see an artist’s show, I always think a really great value or currency is to defy expectation. I reckon 99% of shows that I see are exactly what I expect as I go into the show. I think that’s weird. And then I also think it’s very weird that, well, art can be anything, right?
You can make whatever you want.
Anything you want. It could be like a uniform for a McDonald’s drive-through. Or it could be a donation to a sperm bank. Or it could be a box full of sound, or anything. And still, 95% of art goes on the wall?! And that artists don’t even question that I find pretty weird. I value and judge people on how creative they are and not how good their work is. Often some of my favourite artists are the artists who make bad work as well.
I think you have to make bad work every now and again though.
Oh, absolutely. I don’t trust genius pieces whatsoever. I just think the whole point of making art is to learn, to evolve and to develop language and as a person. You only do that by making bad work you throw out. Or people see it and you’re embarrassed by it. And that’s good practice.
It’s like with studios. Do artists need studios? What is a studio? A studio’s just another conformity that’s been handed down through history. It’s a place to work. Well, does it have to be a studio? Living in the city. You don’t really need to live in the city.
To me, good artists are where the boundaries between practice and life don’t exist. You’re in their house. And, as you say, you suddenly realise a chair they’re sat on is something they’ve made…
And they serve you some food and you’ve never had anything like it before and they’ve invented it. But they also, you find out, hand-made the dish to serve it on because it complements the food that they’re serving. That act of being interested in the world around them, not just interested in the art world around them.
The artists I’ve worked with, the ones who fascinate me, are the ones that are like a stick of rock – you can break them anyway and it’s still the same thing going through the middle. How do I improve this, or alter it, or disrupt it? Someone like Carol Bove: she couldn’t find a school for her kids so opened one. Her art and her life are one.
I was just going to mention the Carol Bove example. My ideology of that reminds me of the Good Life. They’re not self-sufficient, but creatively self-sufficient. So instead of chickens you’re talking about how to make money on real things.
I like the Good Life idea. Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?
I was going say something about the economy of giving back as well. I think it’s important to give back and that doesn’t happen enough. If artists are in significantly privileged positions because of the work that they make, then they should. I want to see more artists having, I don’t know, like scholarships in their name. Or opening art schools. Or publishing young artists’ books, because that’s all totally doable by me and my contemporaries. It’s easy. It just doesn’t happen enough and that’s a bit rubbish.
See the full interview here