Locked Room Scenario

by HRM on November 18, 2011

Ryan Gander, at Artangel, London, 30 August- 23 October 2011. Article by Lauren Elkin

In the very best of circumstances, I have an atrociously bad sense of direction. Send me to a notoriously difficult-to-find temporary exhibit in a somewhat gritty neighborhood I don’t know at all, and depending on my mood I’ll either cry or give up. And yet here I am, on an unseasonably warm October day, wandering through Hoxton. I’ve come to see Locked Room Scenario, an art installation in a warehouse, sponsored by Artangel, a London-based art group with a penchant for outside-of-the-cube installations in unexpected locations. A friend of a friend works there. This show is meant to be really interesting, but no one will tell me anything specific about it – not my friend, and not the friend of my friend. Deciphering the website takes too much concentration. “Please tell me what is the point of the show,” I asked my friend in advance. “Just give me some idea of what I’m in for.” “Just go,” my friend said, so I’m going, despite the fact that I’ve been getting lost in London all week – taking the wrong trains, making the wrong turns, ending up quite far from where I meant to go. But as I’m contemplating moving to London, I’ve resolved to Keep Calm and Carry On. One day I will navigate the Big Smoke with ease. Or at least with less difficulty.

Illustration by Badaude I start off with a half-pint at a pub called The Eagle. Thus fortified, I begin the task of looking for the Londonewcastle Depot, 1-3 Wenlock Rd. I wander up the street and pass building after building but see no numbers on either side until number 7. Maybe the numbers go the other way? I keep walking and soon I’m at number 19. Then I call my friend.

“You know I am easily lost. Why have you sent me here?”

She describes the entrance, and I seem to remember having passed something that matched her description. “Enjoy the show,” she says. “If you get yourself out of there without having your head collapse it will be amazing.”

Walking back the way I came, I soon see the number 1 hanging from a chain-link fence. (How did I miss that?) I wander into a cement yard which leads to an abandoned-looking building. There are other confused-looking artsy types wandering around, peering into doorways. This must be it. Whatever “it” is. Two women look at me with similar recognition. “Are you here for the Locked Room Scenario?” they ask me. I say yes. “Oh good,” they say. “We can’t find the way in!” I walk around the side of the building and see an open doorway with a girl sitting on a flight of steps. She looks like an art student. “Is this the Locked Room Scenario?” we ask her. She shrugs. “She must be part of it,” they say. “Come to think of it, you could be part of it.” I laugh. “Oh, no. I’m just an American who’s slightly lost in London. I’m not part of anything.” They don’t seem to believe me. I guess if I wanted to stage a surreal art happening, I’d include a befuddled American, too. We go in and begin to look for a Locked Room. They spend a lot of time trying to open a locked door. I find a door that is not locked, and walk through it.

Illustration by Badaude

Down a freshly-painted hallway that smells of chemicals I find an abandoned iPhone on the ground, in a vestibule, the door to which is locked. I can see it through a glass panel. I’m proud of myself for having found something. The phone is ringing. Is this “it”? The show is a ringing iPhone in a locked vestibule? I notice a window on the wall that gives onto a room where there has been, or still is, an exhibit. Paintings and photographs hang from the walls. Sculptures sit on pedestals. The show is waiting to be taken down, or has perhaps been abandoned. There is no way in. This must surely be The Locked Room. But I have a hunch there’s more. I decide to go back and see how the other people are faring.

Illustration by Badaude Trying a succession of doors, I find a toilet. Someone is having a conversation in it, even though I’m the only person there. I become aware of the subtle sonorous environment, but what is part of the show, and what isn’t? Somewhere, someone is playing the piano. A guy with a high voice laughs nervously. Cars drive by outside. There’s a movie playing on a TV – sounds like a Western. And every thirty seconds or so, a door creaks open, and then carelessly thuds closed. My critical apparatus snaps into gear and I start writing about the show in my notebook. It’s obviously about representation, visibility, accessibility, but it’s also about things that are overhead, about traces, about what we see when we look at art and what stays with us when we go… I am feeling intrigued. But my head so far has not collapsed.

I find a dark, dark hallway. There are no lights in it at all, except, far off, there seems to be a projector sitting on the floor projecting into a room off to the side. But there is so much dark between here and there. I take out my phone and attempt to light the way, but it’s useless. Knowing that the show is supposed to make my head collapse, and that it has not yet collapsed, makes me think there is something scary or jolting in store, and this dark hallway seems a likely place for it to lurk. I back out slowly the way I came and escape back into the light of what seems to be the lobby.

Illustration by Badaude

Near what might once have been an entrance, a security office is empty, the monitor screens still on, showing different parts of the exhibit. The guard has left his bright yellow safety jacket on his swivel chair. In the lobby, a postcard stand gapes empty. A stack of press releases spills out of a cardboard box on the ground. On the wall there is a timeline for the Blue Conceptualists, an artist’s collective with members working in a variety of media. 1973 is notable for Spencer Anthony’s “It Cries Itself to Sleep”: “A photographic print from a missing negative accidentally exposed during the making of Lee Miller’s infamous ‘Hitler’s Bath.’” More recently, in 2010: “Sarah Thornton’s book Seven Days in the Art World references Santo Sterne’s ‘Say no if you can, say no, no’ (1996), his sarcastic dig at conceptual art. The references have been removed at the 11th hour prior to the book going to press. The publishers claim this is due to offensive remarks published on the internet by the Sternes’ son Manuel.” By now I’m laughing helplessly. The fake timeline of the fake art movement has done me in, and it’s a relief to laugh after so much trepidation. A girl in heavy black glasses walks in and out of the room several times. “Where are the bloody red circles?” she asks with some desperation. Is it real or staged? And what is she talking about? I’m no longer sure it matters. “Is she part of it?” a tattooed English couple ask me as she leaves the room. “I don’t know,” I say. “Are you part of it?” they ask. “Yes,” I say, knowing that even though I’m not, I am.


Photograph by Julian Abrams

Drawings Illustrations by Badaude, an international bystander blogging from Paris and the UK at badaude.typepad.com. All drawings appeared originally here.

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