(Paris.) For the past two years, Le Plateau's director Xavier Franceschi and artists-come-curators Elodie Royer/Yoann Gourmel have been engaged in a tight competition as to who would present the more abstract, more minimalist and alltogether more radically cutting edge avant-gardist shows. Shows that drew the entire Parisian art scene to their openings, though the standard comment on the way home always turned out to be "J'ai rien compris" ("I didn't get a thing") - whispered in confidence to dear friends, close colleagues and random passers-by.
This summer, Royer and Gourmel's contract has expired, and Franceschi rings the bell to a new era with the Documentabiennale-proof star Ryan Gander. It might be a promise for the future: conceptual yes, but less obscure, less esoteric.
To say it right here: Gander is a great choice. Whilst each work in the show stands for itself and as such is open to various interpretations, the underlying concept is "imagination". Still in the lobby, visitors are pushed into the right line of thought with the first work, the mysterious inscription Imagineering on an advertising column.
Entering the exhibition space, it is dark but for the flashlights of the guards and some red LEDs blinking from an object in the middle. Metal, mirrors, plastic, a display counting down, this "sculpture" reminds of a stereo tower (without speakers). Any technical invention requires imagination, and imagination is the power that helps us construct something out of the dark, to understand in the broadest way what is happening - and if it were only in our minds.
In an easy to miss side side-compartment a slideshow brings naked girls. Well, that might refer to some sort of imagination, too. For equal rights the artist could have put boy band posters on the wall (never forget feminism), he didn't.
It follows failed imagination, if such a thing exists. Imagineering is revealed as the title of a fictional PR campaign by the British government to "promote imagination". As a part of the project, Ryan Gander asked an agency to create a TV commercial. And they did. As obvious, cheesy and dumb as any commercial can be. With lots of happy kids in it. (Not one of them sitting in a wheelchair like the artist himself - By the way, even if Ryan Gander is British, and as such just has to have a solid sense of black humor, it would be utterly cynical and really really offensive to comment on this Parisian show with the words: "Ryan ne va plus"). And with soap bubbles representing ideas. Maybe we should take this as a requiem for all those lost souls, all those once intelligent, even creative, people who ended up in advertisement and PR. For one thing should be clear: to produce films like this, to offend the viewer's intelligence and perceive him as an easily led object, truly requires a ruthless, misanthropic, personality. Imagination is not a product, and treating it as such only reveals a lack of itself. On the meta-level though, the artistic inspiration behind is impressive. There is this twist about the government as the campaign's alleged commissioner. Being outside of governmental control, and potentially dangerous for any ruler (as every change starts with the idea), imagination is not likely to be promoted by any authority.
The following room holds an installation with a school desk and a selection from the home depot range. The accompanying text tells about Ryan Gander's creating lamps for his wife as a pastime (as usual there is no way to verify the truth of such claims). Where is the border between art, handicraft and DIY; is it inside a person's head, and are there different grades of imagination?
Nature in a tank. An aquarium in the wall offers a look into a fairytale forest; some leaves are moving as for lurking monsters in the shadow. Opposed to this classical, ancient imagination appears an equally walled-in cartoon robot moving his eyes for the visitor. Its big round eyes and smiling mouth point follow the toy design guidelines. It points to childhood, but also to constructed, industrially produced concept of childhood, to an industry that creates and profits from imagination.
Finally a wall of acryl paintings on glass, Helmut Dorner could not have done better himself. Ryan Gander has obviously been inspired here. Each painting is related to a situation, an observation made by the artist. These works give the background to large objects hidden under sheets - in marble. This might be an armchair here, a piano over there. We learn them to refer to the artist's daughter building tents in the family's home, in best "homey castle" tradition.
And that's it, the show is over, much to soon, as it seems. Probably it is intended to let the visitor leave with his own imagination only stimulated; not tired. It's a great little show, with a comprehensive concept. Not to forget the title Make every show like it's your last. The poster then reads on in the same typo: "Ryan Gander".
And if this were only your "first Gander"...? Will the artist himself become superfluous by his work? Or is creativity a limited resource that can be wholly spent?
Ryan Gander, Make every show like it's your last, Le Plateau 19 Septermber-17 November, 2013