February 17, 2021

“Natural and Conventional Signs” at Lewis Arts Center

“SHAPELESS ENDEAVOUR”: Ryan Gander’s cararra marble carving of a dolos, a form usually used as a barrier to interrupt natural tide cycles with the intention of preventing coastal erosion, is one of the works featured in the virtual exhibition “Natural and Conventional Signs.”

In the virtual exhibition “Natural and Conventional Signs,” U.K. artist Ryan Gander presents a selection of new works directly guided by his research at Princeton University undertaken during his time as a Hodder Fellow (2019-2020) and made during a period of reflection while the world paused amid a global pandemic.

Gander invites an audience into his new gallery space within his studio, Solid Haus, in rural Suffolk, two hours east of London. He has assembled a show in which the works have duality in meaning and utility; subverting the signs, tropes, and markers seen in the everyday world to shine new light on how we position ourselves in relation to the values of time, money, opportunity, attention, and privilege.

Presented by Lewis Center for the Arts, the free video tour of the exhibition is available on demand through February 26 at arts.princeton.edu/gander.

Among the works in “Natural and Conventional Signs” is a motion-activated ticket machine, re-programmed to print unique, computer-generated GPS coordinates taking one to a randomly selected land-based location somewhere on the planet, then redirects the visitor to another encounter outside the gallery space of conventional signs into a real world of natural ones.

Another work presents what appear to be political campaign or protest leaflets strewn across the floor. On closer view, we find that the political messaging is rendered illegible by comic-like cartoon writing leaving the viewer with a motif of protest or political perspective, condensing the action of political engagement to merely a futile gesture.

A very large backlit billboard displays a photographic image of a pair of faux-soiled Adidas trainers created by the artist in 2014. However, it is revealed these particular trainers were worn by Omar Ruvalcaba during September 2017 in the aftermath of the Mexico City earthquake, moving rubble and debris in search of life, following his own survival and escape from the collapsed concrete building in which he lived, creating yardsticks for value, worth, cost, and consequence.

The exhibition also highlights Gander’s ongoing fascination with the attention economy. Heavily influenced by James Williams, whose book, Stand Out of Our Light: Freedom and Resistance in the Attention Economy, was the official “pre-read” for the incoming Class of 2024 at Princeton, Gander hints at how many social problems could be improved from within, by a fundamental societal change in the way we perceive the value of time. 

Gander has established an international reputation through artworks that materialize in many different forms, ranging from sculpture, apparel and writing, to architecture, painting, typefaces, publications, and performance. In addition to curating exhibitions, he is a committed educator, having taught at international art institutions and universities, and has written and presented television programs on and about contemporary art and culture for the BBC. In 2017 he was awarded The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) or services to contemporary arts.

For more information, visit arts.princeton.edu.