Ryan Gander is an artist based in London and Suffolk, UK. Over the past decade, he has gained international acclaim for his works that question the limits of language and knowledge. He speaks here about an artist residency he has founded with Simon Turnbull named Fairfield International, which is set to open in 2014.
AFTER I GRADUATED ART SCHOOL IN 1999, I worked at a carpet shop in Chester for some time. It was only by going to the Jan Van Eyck Academy later that year that I was prevented from the possibility of working at that shop the rest of my life. It really saved me. But there aren’t many funded programs like that in Britain, programs where students from all over the world receive a significant grant and a surplus of facilities (studio, library, workshops, etc.) to build their practice. I now feel incredibly lucky to be able to produce work without having another job to fund it, even though I guess I still have what you could call working-class guilt.
Obviously, there already are art schools where one gets “proper” qualifications, where students do coursework, are marked for them, are placed in a situation of competition, and put on final shows. But when one works toward qualification, qualification becomes the objective and making great art becomes secondary. I think there are artists who come from situations that hold no other prerogative than to practice art. That sort of freedom is rare. My idea for an art school is something between an art academy and a residency, entirely free to the students who are also provided with a living stipend. I think that when one is in a situation in which they don’t have to worry about time and space—two of the greatest denominators in an artist’s ability to practice—that’s when someone starts acting like a real artist.
I live in the small town of Saxmundham, which is by the sea and two hours from London. One day, walking around with my wife Rebecca, we saw an old Victorian school that had been derelict for sixteen years. She asked me—sort of jokingly—why I didn’t do that art school I always wanted to do here. When I went up to go see it, I thought I actually could, not all at once, but in stages like when someone buys a house; instead of buying all the furniture at the same time, one should live in it a bit and buy things as one needs them.
The academy will be called Fairfield International and the plan is simple: When you give young brilliant artists some time and space, everything else becomes contributing factors to their work. At Fairfield International, there will be a sense of retreat because it’s by the sea; all the art world distractions that don’t help an artist work—an opening one night, a party the other, applications for money from the arts council, random teaching jobs, going into a share or living in their parents’ spare room, then having only a week in a studio—won’t be available. All of those have the potential to turn an artist into an idiot, rather than a savant of their own practice who learns by making mistakes.
Looking at photographs of the Bauhaus or of Black Mountain, I always think they should have taken more documentation. The teachers and students probably wish they had some better way to commemorate their time there; perhaps they should have had everyone make a drawing at the beginning and keep an archive. For Fairfield, I thought it would be essential to have an ongoing collection of art, one representative work done by each participant. But it would be logistically difficult and costly to care for over 120 works. So instead we will establish the Fairfield Legacy, an exchange program between the school’s initial investor and its students. In return for what it takes to start a new history, the patron will receive a composed collection of what is in fact a self-built history.