Ryan Gander <em>The end</em> 2020, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Purchased with funds donated by Vivien and Graham Knowles. This artist has been supported by the Elizabeth Summons Grant in Memory of Nicholas Draffin<br/>
© Ryan Gander

Resisting closure

Ellinor Pelz

This essay was first published in NGV Triennial 2023, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.

Ryan Gander’s prolific practice is a site of narrative and material innovation. Working across sculpture, performance, installation, film, graphic design and writing, the UK-based artist defies categorisation to create works that transcend their material form. Gander’s experimental outcomes, the results of metamorphoses of the works, can be read as a compilation of clues staged by the artist for the viewer to solve: a vending machine filled with stones, a floating LED panel staircase, overturned marble and resin chairs after a snow flurry, bronze sneakers, sleeping synthetic cats. These outcomes are ripe with association, with the artist providing a web of opportunities for the viewer to conceptualise narratives. ‘The great potential of art is its ability to remain open, and to resist closure’, explains the artist.1

Through investigating the everyday and the esoteric, Gander calls into question the age we live in. Positing existential and philosophical ideas, the artist is interested in how we construct and use language and knowledge to position ourselves in relation to time, attention and privilege. The end, 2020, is the final work in a trilogy of animatronic mouse sculptures, voiced by one of the artist’s young daughters. In each, the life-sized mouse appears from a hole in a wall to deliver a speech, commanding the room with its tiny, innocent voice. In the final speech of the series, the mouse asks its audience to reckon with some of the biggest ideas that face humanity: climate change, the effects of our technology-led age and ‘the end’.

Completed a short time before the coronavirus outbreak, The end acts as a prelude to a narrative of transformation and existential questioning that would soon be felt around the globe. Often referred to as a guru or prophet in his work, Gander’s animatronic mouse seemingly foreshadowed a sense of collective vulnerability by probing the inevitability of humankind’s mortality.2 Attuned to the playfulness and imagination of children, whose ideas are often less restricted than those of adults, Gander wittingly juxtaposes the naivety of his daughter’s voice with complex speculations about the world. The intriguing little mouse poking out from the debris of a wall encourages its willing viewer to kneel and hear what it has to say:

Perhaps the strangest thing about ‘the end’ is that [despite] all of humans’ socalled achievements, like training the planet into obedience, probing out of space, surrounding yourselves with excess, and associating value to things that aren’t valuable, humans can’t answer the most urgent question: what is ‘the end’? Well actually … what is after ‘the end’?

In speculating on the end, Gander invites us to realise that time is all we have, and that attention is our greatest asset.3 Time to explore, learn, cry, love, laugh, make mistakes – to live. But we are wilfully unaware of its expiry. So how do we manage this precious commodity? What is the currency of our attention?

In an interview with Space K Gallery, Seoul, Gander considers the influence of two ancient Greek words used for time – chronos and kairos. Chronos is a measurement system (like a clock or calendar) that dictates what we do and when. Kairos refers to a qualitative measure of moments that arise with serendipity, marking an opportunity that may not recur or wouldn’t have been possible under other circumstances.4 Gander talks about living through an accelerated, late-capitalist present, with chronos as a conformist path underpinned by cultural expectations and driven by the mechanised time in our pockets and strapped around our wrists. Gander instead encourages us to imagine kairos, where assumed conventions are stripped and the weaving and turning of life are embraced with intuition and curiosity. This notion ties in with the artist’s approach to making, where he avoids predictable and rigid outcomes in favour of material flexibility and conceptual experimentation.

With a non-linear and liberated approach to time, Gander’s practice explores what he calls ‘para-possibilities’, a phrase coined to explore ‘other’ versions of today or creative propositions as part of an imaginary condition of being able to do anything and be anywhere. ‘The greatest difference between human and animal … is humans’ ability to imagine oneself in a different timeframe’, the mouse utters. Daydreaming allows humans to cognitively travel through time and imagine alternate versions of themselves and the world in the past, present and future. With an interest in prehistory, Gander imagines a time before capitalism, before the dependence on chronos.5 A time before the existence of written records and what continues to shape our culture today – what we call the Anthropocene – during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment. Gander’s para-possibilities shine a light on how our considerations of and interactions with the world, ourselves and the people around us affect nature and materiality.

We live in an era marked by rapid technological advancements – a digital age that demands our constant attention. In turn, this can cause information overload and the anxieties associated with attention scarcity. In asking, ‘If you had ten days to live, would you spend it looking at Instagram?’ the mouse reflects on the habits we’ve created to distract ourselves from the unanswerable worries of our time. With openness, however, Gander reminds us that ‘we all have agency, we all have time, we all have attention, and they are three of our greatest currencies and assets that we have. [They have the] potential for creating change’.6

Drawing parallels between construction and storytelling, Gander’s practice provides an intriguing and playful opportunity to approach complex ideas relating to time, attention and value. Set in the ever-changing and complex landscape of humankind and its advancements, The end considers how we move through collective and individual realities (present, past and future). With a conceptual practice stimulated by curiosity, Gander invites us to accept the unknown and be optimistic that imaginative and infinite para-possibilities can exist.

The NGV warmly thanks Vivien and Graham Knowles for their support.

This artist has been supported by the Elizabeth Summons Grant in Memory of Nicholas Draffin.

ELLINOR PELZ is an independent writer and curator, and a Project Assistant, National Gallery of Victoria Contemporary.



Marc-Christoph Wagner, ‘Ryan Gander interview: to resist closure’, 13 July 2018, Louisiana Channel, YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8iVIEXPDxYo, accessed 16 Feb 2023.


Lisson Gallery, ‘Episode 10: ON AIR with Ryan Gander discussing The End’, 25 May 2020, Lisson Gallery, < https://www.lissongallery.com/news/episode-10-on-air-ryan-gander-the-end, accessed 16 Feb. 2023.




John Smith, ‘Time, times, and the “right time”; chronos and kairos’, The Monist, vol. 53, no. 1, 1969, pp. 1–13, https://doi.org/10.5840/monist196953115, accessed 16 Feb 2023.


SPACE K, ‘Interview with Ryan Gander’, 2021, SPACE K channel, YouTube, “https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8YtI0bmrf20, accessed 16 Feb 2023.