from Ryan Gander
One of my father's favourite sayings is "Let the world take a turn, and you will see things in a different light". The saying refers not to real physical light of course, but to an emotional state of mind; a mood, a spirit or an attitude that with the passage of time changes the way we receive information and form opinions on things. There are a multitude of ways to see a single thing, this is especially so with works of art. For example, a viewer from Tokyo may interpret a painting very differently to someone from Italy. You will undoubtedly feel differently looking at a sculpture on a rainy day (perhaps with wet socks from a puddle you stepped in on the way to the museum) than you would on a bright warm sunny day. And, you will interpret a photographic work of art differently if there is a sculpture of a rather terrifying giant bear standing next to it. Context is everything. Nothing can ever be viewed in a neutral light.
Countless times I have been told that artists ‘see things differently', for many of us this is how we explain the obscure, alternative and non-conformist ways that artists view and interpret the world, as if there is something physiologically different about the artists retinal capabilities. Of course this is not true. Every human on this planet of ours has the ability to change perspective, employ empathy and understand the exact same thing in many various multiple ways… If we let ourselves. The single greatest tool I have learnt to use as an artist during the last 25 years is my ability to ‘Let the world take a turn'. To allow time and context to change the way I feel about artworks. To not be afraid of difference, or things that seem unusual, strange or odd. To try to do new things and to do things differently where ever possible, to walk the long way round, to change the conditions around us and to shift perspective for a moment.
When I was younger, like many artists, this idea worried me. I was preoccupied with whether the artworks I had made and would leave behind when I was gone from this world would be misinterpreted without me, especially so as a conceptual artist whose artworks are partially based in the realms of storytelling, not simply as independent objects that stand alone in the world. For me now, as I am a little older and a little less obsessed with ego and with controlling my own legacy, this phenomenon is the single greatest quality of all art. It is only natural that the meaning of an artwork would change as the world, opinions and objects change around it.
The more I learn about Mr Terada Kotaro, the mastermind behind this catalytic and very idiosyncratic collection, the more I feel that perhaps the ability to see the same thing in different lights was one of his overarching motivations. In his own words… “We live in the visible world, struggling, and it makes us think only in terms of the real, visible world. But that shouldn't be the only thing… The world of surrealism is the same. It's not just an imaginary world, it's a way of getting to the root of things by breaking the order of reality.” 1 The ability of Mr Terada Kotaro to appreciate unusual ways of looking, seeing, gazing, viewing, exploring, observing, spectating, watching, peering, surveying, scanning, studying, feasting, regarding, monitoring, inspecting, scrutinising, glimpsing, noticing, eyeballing or spotting is a testament to his belief that we should all be in control of the ‘light we shine on things' as well as where, when and how our attention and agency are directed. This after all is one of our greatest human liberties. An insight that is echoed in his telling of the fact that he was disappointed when he saw a movie in colour film for the first time, as he found black-and-white film much more appealing as it evoked the human imagination to greater depths,2 making the monochromatic display in the first and second galleries a tribute to this great human.
It has been an absolute pleasure to work with curator Nomura Shino and the amazing artists in this incredible collection on this exhibition. Their trust, openness and excitement around (what I am aware are) quite unusual, experimental and contemporary exhibition methods encourages me that the language of art for many of us is still more important than conformity for the sake of conformity. TOCAG's insight into the denouement of ‘doing something a certain way just because that's how it has always been done' should be celebrated. A single signifier of a truly innovative institution. Thank you to each of you.
As I think more about how each of us holds the liberty of what we give our attention to, I am reminded of a question I was once asked by the American writer and academic James Williams, “If you had only five days to live, would you spend it on social media?”3 In a world that fights for our attention, perhaps what we shine our light on is our greatest asset. For the hundreds of exhibitions you may visit in your lifetime, we are hoping that this one you will commit to memory and never forget, precisely because your agency was enhanced and you let yourself shine a different light on something… And, as the memory of this exhibition will hopefully live with you in your memory, let that be proof that we see with our minds, not with our eyes. The appreciation of art is cognitive not merely retinal.
Take your time to be explorers for yourselves. Go Slow.
6th April, 2021
- 1. from an interview with Mr Terada Kotaro, Art Collectors magazine No. 14, Seikatsu no Tomosha, June 2009, p.33, translated from Japanese by Nomura Shino
- 2. "Personality in the Collection: An Interview with Mr. Terada Kotar]o, Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery: Selected Works from the Permanent Collection, September 1999, p.140
- 3. James Williams, Stand out of our Light: Freedom and Resistance in the Attention Economy, Cambridge University Press, May 2018
Born in 1976 in the UK, Ryan Gander has been a major figure on the international art scene, breaking new ground in conceptual art, with a major solo exhibition at Kunsthalle Bern in 2019 and other international exhibitions including Documenta and the Venice Biennale. He is also known for his public art, such as his outdoor sculptures in Central Park, New York in 2010. In Japan, a solo exhibition at the National Museum of Art, Osaka and an exhibition of the museum's collection, curated by Gander, were held in 2017.