De Peter Altini, British Council France

12 février 2013 - 10:34

The Palais du Tokyo, which plays host to a vibrant contemporary art scene in Paris especially after having recently exposed a formidable area of square meterage within its foundations, inaugurated last Thursday (27th September) its second season entitled ‘Imaginez L’Imaginaire‘.

Emerging British Artist Ryan Gander was invited to launch the ‘Bibliothèque d’artiste’ or ‘Artist’s Library’ program – running from the 28/09/2012 to the 07/01/13 – and exhibits five distinct works where the visitor is very much encouraged to imagine the imaginary.

Prior to visiting the exhibition,  I encountered Gander’s work as most people do nowadays – online, while flicking through Google images hoping to gather a sense of the objects and textures and materials this UK-based artist uses in order to explore ‘meta-versions of reality’ as one art critic in Wallpaper magazine has described.

Gander’s new work, commissioned by the Palais du Tokyo to design an imaginary library, certainly seems derivative of previous pieces. The ‘artist’s mental landscape’, as suggested by the description the gallery provides,  seems upon first examination a rich and familiar place – most beautifully explored in the piece AMPERSAND.

A single armchair, both functional and stylish, faces away from the gallery towards a window behind which an infinite number of objects pass by with wearying regularity. One is struck by the mechanical nature of the piece, the repetition, the watching and waiting, the expectation of objects that seem to float past from some inexhaustible source beyond the observers’ restricted point of view.  Many of the objects themselves are instantly recognisable,  drawn from the everyday and of varying ambiguity. One is compelled to study them before they are whisked along,  replaced by another – a woollen blanket,  a French mushroom knife,  a roll of fabric,  a pile of artificial autumn leaves.  Questions arise as to why the artist has chosen to exhibit them,  if they were placed randomly or carefully catalogued and displayed with utmost care and self-reflection.

There seems to be a fanatical attention to detail in this piece.  These artefacts are accompanied by an extraordinary list on a fold out poster-size sheet of paper, upon which every object has been painstakingly and methodically indexed.  The artist has even specifically listed the typeface of the English text – the very same font the London Underground has employed since 1913.  It is likewise worth noting that the typeface utilized in the translation has been taken from the Parisian Metro – although no matter how fluent your French,  you might find it hard to read without the use of a mirror.

Gander is no stranger to exploring ‘cultural collisions’ and seems an astute purveyor of  ‘playful puzzles’ as his critics have described. There are certainly ‘maps’ to be explored in this piece, trails both below the surface and above, where the directions given by the artist are perhaps best left untouched or at the very least,  treated with suspicion.

Of the other pieces exposed, the ‘Associative Ghost Templates’, and the sound work  ‘and…and…and’,  don’t be afraid to venture into places you might normally avoid (the men’s and ladies’ toilets for example).  It is also worth considering that sometimes the presentation of Gander’s work can carry more significance than the work itself.

Whether one chooses words or things to comprehend the rebus of Gander’s expression, the result is always one of thought-provoking longevity and intellectual intrigue.

Peter Altini, British Council France

Peter-Adrian Altini was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. He joined the British Council in 2006.  Having worked in the film industry prior to becoming a teacher, he continues to be passionate about cinema as well as the visual arts and he has won two awards – 1st prize in an under-30 Photographic competition and the 2005 Ernst van Heerden Creative Writing Award for a soon-to-be-published novel.