Byline: Ben Luke
[bar] MAGINE a by-appointment-only exhibition for which, once you've booked your ticket, you might be one of the visitors to receive a text requesting that you meet a stranger who will escort you to the venue. Then, when you arrive at the exhibition, the building is open but the show appears to be closed. As you walk around the edges of the inaccessible room, hints of video projections and sculptures can be glimpsed through frosted and wiremeshed windows, and gaps between blinds, and overheard through the walls. Then, when you leave the exhibition and make your way through the surrounding streets, it appears that you are being followed. What's going on? What does it all mean? Locked Room Scenario, an installation by British artist Ryan Gander, opens at the end of the month and is set to be one of most talkedabout events of the year. It is being created in collaboration with Artangel, the visionary commissioning body that brought us Rachel Whiteread's concrete cast of a house, Roger Hiorns's shimmering blue-crystal cave in an Elephant and Castle flat and, last year, the ghostly songs of Turner Prize-winner Susan Philipsz in the City of London.
For now, Gander is overseeing the construction of his show. When I arrive at a humdrum looking warehouse in a quiet street between Hoxton and Islington, I am greeted by a forest of wooden planks and joists being assembled by a team of builders. Gander soon joins us, entering the space in his wheelchair -- he has a longterm physical disability, the details of which he prefers not to reveal -- and is delighted by the speed at which the bare bones of his vision are taking shape. "It's looking great," agrees Michael Morris, co-director with James Lingwood of Artangel. These men know what's coming, and they are palpably excited.
Gander has been due a big public platform in the UK after several years of art-world buzz. He had a near miss in 2005 when he was shortlisted for the now defunct Beck's Futures prize but his work's subtleties can get lost when surrounded by more bombastic offerings. Last year he created a collapsed classical column inspired by Oscar Wilde's story The Happy Prince in New York's Central Park, and he is represented in many museum collections, from the Tate to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. He has long been tipped for the Turner Prize, without ever making the shortlist. With the Artangel project, 2012 might finally be his year.
Now 35, Gander was born in Chester. He studied interactive art at Manchester Metropolitan University and furthered his studies in Amsterdam. A conceptual artist, his works take infinitely various forms -- sculpture, film, installation, found objects, photography and more recently painting -- but what they have in common is that they are mostly spare and enigmatic, minimal conundrums and art historical riddles.
At the Lisson Gallery last year, for example, his broken neon sign in the window which read "M SSAGE" was displayed. The missing vowel is all important -- it looked like the sign for a massage parlour but in a gallery context it refers to our need for meaning and messages in art. He titled it The Medium, a reference to theories of media analyst Marshall McLuhan (who coined the phrase "the medium is the message").
We find a place on a ramp in the warehouse's courtyard, to settle down and talk about Locked Room Scenario. The title, Gander says, is intended to evoke the written or verbal puzzles used by psychologists when studying lateral thinking and the use of the imagination. He hopes visitors will be inspired to become art detectives.
"You see fragments of 30 works but never an artwork in its entirety, so you are forced to use your imagination and complete the artwork yourself," he explains. His seven invented artists, who are supposed to have made these works, have "complete characters, histories, aesthetics, motivations and goals", he says, about which visitors will discover more if they find certain clues, such as two pages of a novel written by Gander. …