The Art of Short Film with Ryan Gander

“There are infinite new things in the world, it’s just finding them that’s difficult.”

Ryan Gander (OBE) is one of the world’s most celebrated conceptual artists whose work takes many different forms; from sculpture to film, writing, architecture, television scripts, graphic design, installation and performance. Gander lives and works in Suffolk, and has recently joined the Suffolks Shorts team as part of the Best Arts & Performance Film jury.

Today he is musing on what it is about film, short film in particular, that appeals to artists. For him making films is like drawing. You can make mistakes, erase or get a new piece of paper; you are not committing to an idea that is unchangeable. It’s unlike painting as when you are more committed once you’ve done your first layer.

“That’s the wonderful thing about shooting and editing, you can just add. It’s like baking a cake – if it’s not sweet enough you can add some more sugar. It’s a malleable process.” 

All the best chefs experiment, and experimenting with ideas is what artists and short filmmakers do too. Even if you make mistakes, you push the boundaries, that’s the courage of the artist. But you can only push the boundaries if you understand the language. Gander has always talked about the importance art history, yet he manages to steer away from stereotypes. He admits it’s very hard to imagine something completely new, but encourages filmmakers to look to the past to understand the narrative language of film before turning their camera onto a subject. Especially now that anyone can be a filmmaker.

“As far I am concerned, a good film is the thing that you are pointing the camera at, not just the way you are pointing the camera, and not just the kind of camera it is.”

Gander admits to making less films than he used to, and the films he does make are getting shorter. The last ten films he’s made have been no longer than a minute, which repeat themselves. He’s convinced that the speed at which we absorb information now means that we lack content that is deep, rich and meaningful, but he follows his instinct. He makes what has to be made.

“There’s a difference between making an art film that goes in a museum and making an art film that goes in the cinema, or to a festival.”

His films are not seen at screenings or in cinemas, they are part of exhibitions in galleries or museums. He has an aversion to restricting the agency of the spectator, so doesn’t like to insist that you must stay in a room and watch his films for their full duration. But he is fully aware of the stigma attached to art film and the stereotype that art is pretentious and only for the select few is something he’s explored in his work.

The End

With this context it was really exciting this week when a new worked sneaked out into the world, on Instagram, called The End. It features a mouse and the voice of Penelope, his 6 year old daughter, recorded in Suffolk. He was in two minds about whether to post it, but as it is made for some shows that may well be cancelled, it’s has been released – and it’s really remarkable. This script was written last year, before the current situation, but you’ll see that its relevance is quite shocking. Watch it here, for now!

Gander is concerned that we lack intellectual stimulation at the moment. He points out that making art that is interesting and does not reinforce stereotypes of elitism, when so many people are put off, is the key to success. An art work can be intellectually rigorous and it can be alluring, or seducing or intriguing and still ‘accessible’ it’s just about getting a balance.

“Although art is not for everyone, it is for anyone. That’s the key to it all.”

Ryan Gander films

Basquiat or I can’t dance to it, one day – but not now, one day I will but that will be it, but you won’t know it and that will be it, 2008

A remake of a scene from Schnabel’s 1996 movie Basquiat, loosely re-enacted by the artists’ gallerist. The audio component consisting of a voiceover of the gallerist reading the press release that he had written to accompany the work, in the full knowledge that it would be used in the final edit of the film.

Man on a bridge – (A study of David Lange), 2008

A digital video transferred from 16 mm film shows a number of slightly differing takes of the same short sequence: A man walks over a bridge and seems to notice something over the railing to his left hand side. As he moves in for a closer inspection, the film cuts, which is then followed by another take of the same shot.

As it presents itself – Somewhere Vague, 2008

A claymation video produced by Wonky Animations and Picture This, Bristol (UK). The work brings together characters based on the comedian Spike Milligan, curator Matthew Higgs, Mrs. Frances Gander, the mother of the artist; the Lumière Brothers, Auguste and Louis, pioneering film-makers and a generic animators armature that functions as the skeleton for the other characters. The characters are auditioning for a piano piece; they appear nervous and unsure of themselves and their reasons for being on stage. The voiceover is provided by Richard Briers; the script is written by the artist from the imagined perspective of each of the characters in the film.

The artist is not for turning – Relic Gestures, 2017

The BBC News presenter Clive Myrie delivers an outside broadcast piece to camera at night on the banks of the Seine, Paris. Against a backdrop of 100 actors dressed and made up as zombies, the presenter delivers the text ‘Relic Gestures’ from the book ‘Peoplewatching: The Desmond Morris Guide to Body Language’ (1977) by Zoologist Desmond Morris whilst seemingly oblivious to, or purposefully ignoring the absurd action taking place behind. The video is displayed on a large flat screen monitor, inset in the bottom right hand corner of the screen, to the left of which notes and annotations in the artist’s hand, originally made while reading the text for the first time are animated in unison with the pace of the journalist’s delivery of the text. The screen, that sits on a movable stand, is surrounded by Monstera Deliciosa (Swiss Cheese Plants), behind which the entire wall of the space in which it is presented is covered with mirrored tiles, and the room is fitted with a black carpet.

Portrait of a colour blind artist obscured by flowers, 2016

A six minute film of the artist working at a table in his studio romantically and nostalgically filmed from multiple angles, but always with the face of the subject out of focus and obscured by various strategically placed vases of flowers. The film lasts for the duration of the piece of music ‘Some Absolute End (The End)’ by Bill Ryder-Jones, which is heard being played in the studio. Several colours of the film are subtly switched, based on the artist’s colour blindness, so that greys become pinks, blues become purple and greens become red, and vice versa, giving a strangely awkward dream-sequence like feel.

Dancing with my own agencies (The world will adjust to you), 2018

A one hour documentary by the artist, commissioned by the BBC on the visual language of Japanese Culture entitled The Idea of Japan. Revisited and over-animated so that every time the artist appears on screen his face and clothes are soiled and dust clouds appear to emanate from him. These visual characteristics denoting uncleanliness have been added in the same style as the character Pig-Pen is drawn in the comic strip Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz.

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