View of “Ryan Gander,” 2018. Ground: The rebalance of mass inequalities (detail), 2018. Center: The Self Righting of All Things (detail), 2018. Photo: Jack Hems.

View of “Ryan Gander,” 2018. Ground: The rebalance of mass inequalities (detail), 2018. Center: The Self Righting of All Things (detail), 2018. Photo: Jack Hems.

Ryan Gander

Lisson Gallery / Houldsworth

View of “Ryan Gander,” 2018. Ground: The rebalance of mass inequalities (detail), 2018. Center: The Self Righting of All Things (detail), 2018. Photo: Jack Hems.

Is Ryan Gander, now in his early forties, going through a period of midlife reflection? His recent work—which makes use of elements, such as design objects, figurative sculpture, and storytelling, already familiar from his multimedia practice but more grown-up and serious in tone—confronts existential questions about the passage of time. For his exhibition “The Self Righting of All Things,” he spoke with a mathematician and teamed up with close family members to show how the physical universe and human world are ruled by an innate order that returns to harmony without intervention. Sharing a piece of advice that has regularly been given to the artist by his father—“Let the world take a turn”—a motivational poster encouraged viewers to trust in time, rather than try to run against it.

In the installation Notes on Nothing—Watching Oneself Fall, 2018, flip-disc display panels (like those still seen in older bus and train stations) hung from the ceiling in a cube formation. Their dots flicked on and off according to an algorithm written by the artist, generating a drizzling movement and a distinctive clicking sound that called attention to the unfolding of time as such. A recording of Gander’s voice, broadcast from speakers, filled this sparse, darkened, contemplative room, as he candidly recounted personal anecdotes and offered broader reflections around themes of time and deterioration, whether of bodies or of artworks. Nor did the deterioration of trust in the “nanny state” seem a topic too out of the way for him to go into. There was also a little digression into pencil sharpening, and musings about the equalizing power of untouched snow and Gander’s remorse over spoiling it with his steps as a child. A toppled Breuer chair after a blizzard of snow, 2017, lying as though discarded and covered with cast marble resin, was clearly linked to Gander’s stories, except it wasn’t entirely evident just how.

The titular installation, The Self Righting of All Things, 2018, extended across two similar rooms stacked one on top of the other. On the lower level were seven carved-stone gömböcs—convex objects originally hypothesized by the Russian mathematician Vladimir Arnold in 1995 that are shaped in such a way that they always return to a position of stable equilibrium. Placed in the corresponding locations on the upper level, but otherwise rather disparate, were seven stone sculptures of mythological nymphs frolicking in volcanic sand, except for the fact that Gander had suggestively slipped a gömböc into one of the nymphs’ hands. With the sand trickling down through a hole drilled into the floor, the two rooms were transformed into a walk-in hourglass. The title of this installation, The rebalance of mass inequalities, 2018, referred back to the gömböcs but also brought up economics. Collecting stones from a beach in Suffolk, England, Gander had collaborated with his daughter on a new typeface called Set in Stone, 2018—it was used in The Self Righting, 2018, a vinyl decal on the gallery’s front window. There were fairly obvious associations with the sand, with the sampling of gömböc shapes, and between “righting” and “writing,” but a font “set in stone” would also be the exact opposite of the transient flip-disc display panels in Notes on Nothing. The further one tried to follow Gander’s logic, the more doubtful it became. As the sand trickled down over the duration of the show, it seemed it would expose the breasts of the nymphs, while the sculpture A snow globe that never stops snowing (Noting changes in the placement of objects), 2018, inspired further associations with the passage of time without ever revealing anything.

The unlikely fact that it snowed during the exhibition opening in London, in March, seemed no more accidental to the show than any of the actual works in it. The relationships among the loosely related thoughts were as evanescent as time itself. Playfully challenging the impulse to search for profound meaning, the exhibition made for a proposition forever young.

Elisa Schaar