Winner of the Baloise Art Prize 2005.
“Motivation instruments”(1)—that’s what British conceptual artist Ryan Gander calls the fictional characters he creates, who have turned from synonyms into the core and substance of his work. For a decade these different characters—originally consisting of five personas: Spencer Anthony, Abbé Faria, Murray Jay Siskin, Jan Martin, and Ryan Gander himself—pervaded his work in various configurations and formats.
The fact that the idea of a “group show” with the aforementioned, markedly distinct alter egos adopted by Gander did not inspire the response he wished for—visitors focused on the fictive, overall concept, rather than on individual works—did not discourage him from continuing to engage with these figures. Work by work he developed a narrative that created ever stronger connections between the characters, and in effect provided them with a past, a present, and a future. Thus Gander’s trilogy “Spencer, Forget About Good” (2001), “Mary Aurory Sorry” (2002), and “The Death of Abbé Faria” (2003) is not just a tale of loss, guilt, and death, it also invites viewers to speculate on the complex interrelationships between the figures.
In his artistic praxis Gander confronts us with numerous veiled references; at the same time he encourages us to decode them and form our own associations. Party to just a few facts and scraps of information, we have to fill in the gaps ourselves. The full story only exists in our minds; fiction and reality proceed hand in hand. The extent to which the narrative is dependent on the individual viewer is illustrated by Gander in a comparison between his working process and a well-known dinner party game: “You know, someone draws a head on a piece of paper and folds it over, and so on until you get the whole body. That’s not as entertaining because you always end up with a gorilla-duck hybrid in suspenders, though it shows how drastically stories adapt and change when they travel through people. It’s human nature to elaborate and exaggerate … There has to be a way of formulating these things in your head before they can actually be executed in the world.”(2)
The black-and-white photographs of Spencer Anthony and Mary Aurory in the Baloise collection fit perfectly into the overall narrative of Gander’s work. In fact they depict the artist’s parents: in the landscape format “Portrait of Spencer Anthony Somewhere Between 1970 and 1973” we see Gander’s father, smoking at the seaside. In “Portrait of Mary Aurory 1972” his mother, also at the seaside and wearing sunglasses, looks directly into the camera. The fictitious narrative involving these two “characters” tells of a secret on-off affair. There is no hint as to whether that corresponds to the real-life history of Gander’s parents. It is up to the viewer to decide.
(1) Stuart Bailey, “Character Building, Monster Consequences etc.,” in Ryan Gander, Appendix, ed. Stuart Bailey et al., Amsterdam 2003, pp. 97–100, here p. 97. 2 Ibid., p. 100.