Ryan Gander

Robbed us with the sight of what we should have known


Not on display

Ryan Gander born 1976
Cork panels, printed papers and photograph, colour, Chromogenic print, on paper
Display dimensions variable
Purchased with assistance from John A. Smith and Vicky Hughes 2007


This work is an installation consisting of three major elements. The first is a set of cork panels that are displayed on a wall in a large rectangular composition. The cork panels were originally installed as a pin board in the artist’s studio, and are imprinted with the sun-bleached outlines of the documents, notes, photographs and other research materials that were once pinned to them. However, as part of this installation the panels are re-organised into a random arrangement so that the outlines appear as a pattern of fragmented shapes. The second element of the work is a stack of newspapers. The page on top of the stack shows a crossword puzzle created by the artist, the clues for which lead to the construction of the word ‘mitim’. This word was invented by Gander and is a palindrome – a word consisting of a sequence of letters that reads the same forwards as it does in reverse. According to the curator Emily Pethick the word is ‘derived from the conjunction of the words mythical (suggesting a fictional origin) and etymology (suggesting a word that has arrived at its current meaning through a historical path)’ (Pethick 2006, p.66). The fact that the word was invented by Gander, and is therefore unknown to readers, makes the crossword impossible to solve. The third component of the installation is a photograph of a council estate in Hackney, London. In the foreground of the photograph is a milestone or stumbling block that Gander made from remixed concrete using debris from famous modernist structures that had begun to fall into disrepair, including Ernö Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower in Kensington and Berthold Lubetkin’s Penguin Pool at London Zoo.

The work’s title derives from Gander’s interest in the decay of iconic architectural structures: through their gradual degradation these buildings ‘rob us’ of the visual impression that ‘we should have known’, yet the presence of their remains hints at what is missing. Similarly, the documents used as part of the research for the work, which were originally attached to Gander’s pin board, are now only visible by means of the traces that they left on the cork. In the case of the photograph, by juxtaposing a milestone made from fragments of dilapidated modernist projects with a poor London housing estate, Gander established a contrast between the utopian aspirations of modernist design and the material and social reality that is its legacy.

In 2006, the year after he made Robbed us with the sight of what we should have known, Gander produced other sculptural works that incorporated cork boards, including Cork Association Board K And the Room was in a Huge Mess 2006 (private collection) and Corkboard Q She thought it was dirty and put them in a bean 2006 (private collection). For these he used the same technique of taking sun-bleached cork panels and reassembling them in random arrangements, which, when hung on the wall, resemble the abstract compositions of modernist paintings. Also in 2006, Gander executed a series of projects inside and surrounding the Pavillon de l’Esprit Nouveau (1925–77) by the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier (1887–1965) at the Museo d’Arte Moderna in Bologna. These included Stumbling Block (Milestone) 2006, which, like the milestone featured in the photograph in Robbed us with the sight of what we should have known, is made from concrete that originated from a well known modernist building, in this case Le Corbusier’s modernist housing project Cité radieuse (1947–52) in Marseille.

Pethick has pointed to the way in which works such as Robbed us with the sight of what we should have known

employ multiple layers of fact and fiction, as well as lateral modes of thought, in order to draw together associations that make visible the codifications and subtle narratives within everyday life. The work is often experienced as a kind of puzzle that ultimately reflects back on itself.
(Pethick 2006, p.66.)

In this work, as with many of Gander’s projects, fictional elements created by Gander become a means for the artist to intervene creatively with the past and the present in ways that viewers may not always be able to distinguish from reality. For instance, by fabricating and documenting a milestone, Gander has inserted a physical object into architectural history, while the word ‘mitim’, which Gander has described as ‘a mythical word newly introduced into history as if it had always been there’, appears to the viewer to be part of common parlance, as is implied by its inclusion in the crossword (quoted in Fogle 2007, p.257).

Further reading
Emily Pethick, ‘Title’, in Beatrix Ruf and Clarrie Wallis (eds.), Tate Triennial 2006: New British Art, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2006, pp.66, 154.
Douglas Fogle, ‘Denied Parole’, Artforum International, February 2007, pp.257–9.
Timothée Chaillou, ‘Interview with Ryan Gander’, White Review, January 2012, http://www.thewhitereview.org/art/interview-with-ryan-gander, accessed 3 March 2014.

Natasha Adamou
March 2014

Supported by Christie’s.

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