‘Locked Room Scenario’ the latest Artangel triumph
Ryan Gander’s ‘Locked Room Scenario’ is immediately unnerving. Having been ushered through the gates of a Hoxton warehouse (by appointment only), I suddenly find myself alone and confronted at the door by two unfriendly punks apparently oblivious to why I might be invading their patch. The plot thickens, with the piece (or perhaps performance?) consisting of dark corridors and dead ends that encase a forbidden central space, the contents of which can only be glimpsed through slatted blinds or boarded up windows. Fragmentary glances are granted of what appears to be some sort of exhibition; art works in the process of being put up, or perhaps taken down, but certainly not ready – or willing – to be seen.
On one level, the piece plays on our expectations of a gallery, with tension being generated by presenting a space that is,by definition public in a state of ‘undress’. So much so that we are almost left blushing. It furthermore tests our resolve to go ‘out of bounds’, with the viewer forced to explore where the art begins and ends; around that corner? Through that window? On that desk? Or in that skip?
Most overwhelming, however, is the constant nagging feeling that you shouldn’t be there. The sensation that you have simply come to the wrong place is meticulously created via a vast number of devices – the timed entry system which forces the viewer to go it alone; the unseen radios eerily left blaring or the dripping of taps in pitch black toilets which suggest that you are not alone; the hand-written scrawls on a boarded-up windows with red-circled letters which seem to communicate some urgent esoteric message; and even a shadowy figure silently in action behind a frosted door, completely unresponsive to your knock, and adding to the intense sense of unease.
Gander, often described as a storyteller, has here gone one step further, casting the viewer in the lead role, and obliging them to take part in an uncertain but definitely sinister plot: are you the detective piecing together the available clues to solve the mystery, or are you in fact the hapless victim? At every moment it feels like a scenario with the potential to slide into the realm of b-movie horror – a sort of 28 Days Later meets the Saatchi gallery.
Since the power of Gander’s ‘Scenario’ relies primarily on the ignorance of the viewer, it is important not to give too much away. It can be said as a teaser, however, that even once you think you have sussed out the boundaries between the act and the fact, Gander does not fail to deliver a climax, generating a ‘sense of the uncanny that may’– quite literally – ‘pursue visitors as they leave’. The exhibition runs from 30 August–23 October 2011
Words/Photo © Thomas Keane ArtLyst 2011