Jarrod Van Der Ryken

Empty places/with suspicion
Metro Arts, Brisbane
25 March – 10 April 2015

Outside, it is Monday morning, around 10am. Inside, on level three of Metro Arts, it feels as though its about 10pm. I am creeping around the exterior of an abandoned squat, concrete-rendered building. I am by myself in the dark, expecting a sensor light to flash me suddenly, caught in the act of trying to look at the work of Jarrod Van Der Ryken. Light levels are down low and I am at the windows trying to get in, to find a crack or opening, anything that will give me some perspective on what is going on inside. On opening night, through one window, we get a glimpse. A figure is lying flat on his back on a cheap mattress on the floor, looking up at the viewer (now voyeur), catching their gaze and acknowledging it. And that is it for closure. I am left on the outside, leaf litter underfoot and peeling Hello Kitty stickers on the window. I feel a bit dirty, I am suddenly aware that I am on someone’s property and have been caught out, curiosity reattributed as perversion. Peeping Tim, with one eye to the keyhole. 

My thoughts turn to when I have had the rug pulled out from under me like this previously, forced into a situation when the exhibition space has turned on me, effectively flipping my dominant, privileged position as viewer on its head. Some situations come to mind, especially Mike Nelson’s The Coral Reef (2000) at the Tate Britain, London. I enter The Coral Reef via a shabby door off the cavernous and pristine Duveen Galleries, walking in behind the counter of a deserted bar, a crappy electric fan blowing around tepid air. I continue through to the next room, to discover the back dock of a bicycle factory. I move into a hallway, see a bedroom and then emerge back into the bar. At this stage I am feeling claustrophobic, but relieved — I know that the door back to the benign safety of the gallery space is within reach. I walk through it into another room entirely. There is a latex clown mask, and a tommy gun lying on its back. I am thrown, the space is completely different and I am wholly disorientated. 

Later that same year I head out to the dirty end of Hoxton in East London with two friends to see Ryan Gander’s Artangel commission, Locked Room Scenario. We enter a warehouse to find an abandoned, half stocked gift shop. The printed matter scattered on the kiosk table suggests that an exhibition was about to open, a room list half printed out and left on the countertop. Behind a frosted glass door, a figure reads a map and breathes heavily. The door is locked and we circle the outside of the space, down a carpeted corridor trying to find our way in to the exhibition. At the end of the corridor, through the glass of another locked door, we see a forest of pine trees. Later that week I begin to receive cryptic text messages from an unknown number saying that they have left their mobile in my yellow raincoat. I do not own a raincoat, I reply confused but receive no response. 

Van Der Ryken finds himself in this company, but is playing a different game. As viewer, I am placed on the exterior of the work, looking in on an inaccessible situation. The work is careful not to refer to any recognisable location, but in this way refers to many at once. It functions formally as a ‘home’, despite its setting, but it also is removed from its context. It reminds me of Gordon Matta-Clark’s building fragments from the early 1970s. I meet Van Der Ryken at Scout, a cafe on Brisbane’s Petrie Terrace to discuss his exhibition — was it at all a personal space, I ask? Not really, he responds, but says that there was some inspiration from a property in West End in inner Brisbane. He felt drawn to look inside, but kept back as the mystery fuelled his own projections of its interior. 

I recount a similar story, that each day I would walk to work along Petrie Terrace and pass the shop front that Scout now occupies. Through the grimy front windows was a sitting room. A faded pandanus tree sat in a pot next to a crushed velvet chaise. A small writing desk was tucked in the corner. At the back of the room there were three doors: one regular, one a Hollywood western-style saloon door and the other had a crack of light showing at its edges. There was a knowingness to its composition, it felt aware of the pedestrian’s gaze. Nothing changed in the composition of the room for two years, nor did I ever see anyone enter or move around inside the house. The light was always on behind that one door. I speculated fondly about the inhabitants, that they were a set dresser, or an ageing psychoanalyst fallen on hard times. One day, quite suddenly it changed. I walked past and there was a bullet hole in the front window. 

Like Van Der Ryken’s work, this shopfront was inaccessible to me, and because of that fact, my engagement and imagination let loose. My personal perspective shifts with countless factors. My role in this situation as a body is crucial. The experience of Empty Places/With Suspicion is complex, but one that I will leave Pamela M. Lee to aptly touch upon as she discusses the work of Matta-Clark:

…the traditional security of the subject/object, viewer/viewed relationship is thrown into radical doubt; and space, likewise, is considered less a transparent integument into which objects are universally deposited than a kind of elastic membrane, conditioned, shaped, and intertwined by and with bodily experience.1


Jarrod Van Der Ryken, Empty Places/With Suspicion, 2015. Installation view, Metro Arts, Brisbane. Courtesy the artist. 


1. Pamela M. Lee, Object to be destroyed: the art of Gordon Matta-Clark, MIT Press, Cambridge, 2000, p.133.