Ryan Gander by Katherine Satorius
Marc Foxx, Los Angeles CA
November 18 – December 23, 2006
Originally published in ArtUS 17
There was no clear point of entry into British artist Ryan Gander’s “Enough to Start Over,” his second solo show in the U.S. and his first in Los Angeles. Encountering it was like coming upon an inscrutable, impassive building whose interior emitted a seductive, maddening hum. Among the objects in the gallery were corkboards pinned with various papers; photographs of same; a passport photograph of Gander’s mother wearing earrings created by artist Jonathon Monk as part of Monk’s 2006 edition “To Tears”; colored tape affixed to the floor in a 1:1 scale rendering of Sherlock Holmes’s fictional living room; and an engraved Tiffany necklace placed in the corner as though discarded. Finally, there was “Cork room for the realization of a twelve-part TV series entitled ‘Appendix Appendix’ (A work in Progress) (2006)”—a small cork-paneled room in which Gander (who, at age 29, was included in this year’s Tate Triennial) sat busily collaborating with designer/writer Stuart Bailey on a script “firmly intended to be made and screened.” Perhaps 100 sheets of letter-size paper, each filled with text and/or small grayscale images, were tacked to the wall. One showed an imagined dialogue between Milan Kundera, Jane Austen, Günter Grass, Kazuo Ishiguro, and about twenty other writers, each of whom got exactly one line. Another featured a cameo by Nabokov scholar Alfred Appel, Jr. Still others had Gander and Bailey hashing out the production process itself.
The “appendix” belonging to the television project is Gander’s book of that title (Artimo, 2003), a work that seems central to his practice and on which he also collaborated with Bailey. A good part of the book is concerned with establishing unexpected links between real-life occurrences, people, and objects—a concept Gander also developed into an ongoing series of performative lectures titled “(Loose) Associations.” The version he performed at Culver City’s Mandrake Bar on November 21 was witty and engaging: in digressive, anti-Sherlockian fashion, he guided his audience on a meandering journey from point A—a discussion of “desire paths” in urban planning—to point B—“trauma lines” meant to direct traffic flow in hospitals—to point Z, a scene from Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later” (2003) in which Cillian Murphy wanders a deserted London (while just off-screen, Gander pointed out, thousands of real-life drivers are furiously honking). Along the way he connected to everything from invented languages (Elvish and Klingon), the British TV show “Inspector Morse” and its star John Thaw, a historical tidbit concerning British longbows, and a lawsuit artist Gillian Wearing brought against Volkswagen.
If there was a central theme to this presentation, it had to do with the question of the separation between performance and reality, an idea that in Gander’s work has broad implications and applications. The distinction between the un-staged and staged can be extrapolated to include the distinction (or lack thereof) between the unconscious and conscious, and also between life and art. The passport photograph of Gander’s mother wearing Monk’s earrings (“Enough to start over,” 2006), for instance, can be seen as an effort to toe this line. In Monk’s original work the silver earrings—on their own, just jewelry—are attached to a small black-and-white photo of a boy, piercing his eyes so they read as tears. Gander acquired the piece and then had his mother wear the earrings as earrings while sitting for a pedestrian passport photo, later pinning it to the gallery wall. By snaking back and forth between what’s not considered art and what is, Gander also probes what it means to be an artist: Is it all a matter of knowing if and when to forge connections? Is the ideal artist essentially passive or active? If the secret to making good art lies in calibrating unconscious and conscious minds, what is the optimal balance? Only one thing seems clear: the mystery rests in how, and to what degree, relationships between ideas are constructed. Gander’s work may appear removed, but it’s really driving at the heart of the matter. Only this heart, unlike that of a Sherlock Holmes case, remains elusive.
Gert and Uwe Tobias by Katherine Satorius
Lightbox Gallery, Culver City CA
September 9 – October 14, 2006
Originally published in ArtUS 16
Gert and Uwe Tobias’s installation at Lightbox, a group of 29 drawings made with a typewriter and collectively titled “C” (a homonym for “sea” and “see,” a cracked oval, part three, the shape of the gallery where it was installed, Culver City, a random letter…), is actually one prong of a larger exhibition that includes the twins’ concurrent installations at UCLA Hammer Museum, where they’re showing woodcuts and sculptures, and Chinatown’s Happy Lion Gallery, where it’s mostly paintings. Sorting their diverse output into three distinct groups separated by hard miles may be a clever approach to exhibiting in Los Angeles, but it also emphasizes the considerable sprawl of their practice. The Tobias brothers, who spent their childhood in Transylvania but now live in Cologne, shuttle as easily between media as they do between whimsy and the morbid. Their constant is a vocabulary of florid patterns and symbols culled from Romanian folklore (vampires, bats, ghouls) combined with a purely geometric language influenced, perhaps, by a more recent bank of Eastern European and Russian imagery: the works of Kandinsky, Moholy-Nagy, and others.
The Tobiases’ typewriter drawings preserve a handmade quality despite the intervention of a machine. Lines of black or red type, blocked into areas outlined by half-erased pencil marks or casually cut and pasted into new configurations, overlap, grow uneven, and fade. Subverting the typewriter’s purpose of creating coherent, legible texts, the brothers use its letters and symbols like halftone dots, building human figures, grinning wraiths, ships, and abstract forms out of 0’s, %’s, Z’s, @’s, X’s, W’s, and parentheses. The drawings suggest a space beyond the grasp of language where symbols are closed unto themselves, where comprehension ends and art and myth take over. Being twins, the Tobiases are presumably well-acquainted with the outer bounds of communication—they create work as if they’re two parts of the same person, co-signing everything they produce, blurring the line between one self and the other, until only they can recognize their individual contributions.
In Angela Carter’s short story “The Lady of the House of Love” (1979), a “beautiful queen of the vampires (…) sits all alone in her dark, high house under the portraits of her demented and atrocious ancestors” as a strapping blond British officer on vacation in the Romanian uplands unwittingly approaches: “When he quixotically decided to travel the rutted cart-tracks by bicycle, he saw all the humor of it: ‘on two wheels in the land of the vampires.’ So laughing, he sets out on his adventure.” The Tobias brothers, too, describe a world in which the mystical and rational undermine one another, where nightmarish visions are swirled with the bright light of midday. Even the most menacing figures in “C,” their bodies made of type, their eyes perfect 0’s, manage to look goofy as well as haunting.
These kinds of bizarre juxtaposition—the deadly and silly, the ghostly and geometric, the folksy and modern—make the brothers’ practice seem expansive, fresh, and totally peculiar, even at a time when the macabre has become trendy and T-shirts emblazoned with winged skulls are selling for $11.87 at Wal-Mart. In fashion, lurid imagery may function as an ironic, largely empty anachronism, but for the Tobias brothers it’s part of an intensely personal, cryptic vocabulary firmly tethered to identity and history. Still, having relocated to Germany at the age of twelve, their claim to Transylvanian culture is intriguingly vague. On one hand they’re legitimate heirs to the fascinating lore of their homeland; on the other, separated from it by chronological and physical distance, they’re like tourists themselves, come like many before to mine or mime its mysteries.