Lavenham Stories

Living in Suffolk makes me
rich in time, not money.
It gives me more hours,
more agency.

We caught up with Suffolk artist Ryan Gander on his affection for the county.

February 2021

The Wealth of Suffolk

When did you move to Suffolk?

Ten years ago. My wife and I met in New York , then moved in together in London. We bought a holiday home in Suffolk for the weekends, then the weekends got longer and turned into weeks. It’s better, less distracting.

As you get older, the more you realise the value of time. Money loses its value as a system in your head and time gains value. The internet created an abundance of information, and a scarcity of attention. Attention relates to time and change. So living in Suffolk is a way to make yourself rich in time, not money. You have more hours and more agency. You’re not pushed from one place to another like you are in the city. Country living gives you more agency, because you have more time. It’s a way of being incredibly wealthy, quality of life wealthy.
There's this Brian Eno quote, about him trying to live his life on an axis of nature to culture. His favourite part of being in Suffolk is returning back to London - you have to have one to have the other. I always think with culture, you need double the amount of time it takes to consume it to reflect on it, otherwise it doesn’t remain. You don’t digest it, get to reflect on it. It doesn’t seep into your decision making, or change your opinion. When I was in London I’d go to loads of shows, then to the pub, then get up the next day and go back to work. Never thought about anything.


Have you noticed a change in your work since you moved to Suffolk?

I’ve lived here for 10 years but only worked here full time since we bought this building 3 years ago. I’ve noticed that I enjoy work more and it's more pleasurable. It feels more important, I’m learning more.. I feel like the work I’ve been making all my life was about language and enjoying myself, experimenting and being frivolous with ideas and free. I feel a little bit now like, if I’m going to make things they can’t just be for me. It’s a way of looking at the world ecologically and economically. If I make something that’s self pleasure then it’s just using materials and excess for self pleasure. There has to be a reason for making it, it has to contribute knowledge or to history or ask questions. A lot of contemporary art is very click bait and uses a lot of the same techniques and strategies as advertising. Things like FOMO, you can apply that to the creation of an art work. Or outrage, outrage is used in the media all the time. It’s used by politicians as well to attract attention. I love going to London and NY, I’m lucky to be able to travel. Cosmopolitan, urban places, they can be echo chambers and I think we live – and I identify as this as well – as left liberal elite are in echo chambers and unsympathetic and have a lack of parallel vision and parallel possible vision and have a real difficulty envisaging perspective from another tangent. We love to illustrate our differences. I have a feeling that avocado stones do more damage when they’re thrown on you than proper stones. Because avocado stones come from people who eat avocados. And there’s a lot of people who haven’t eaten avocado. Who don’t know what they look like. And I think we forget that the world isn’t full of people who eat avocados. I think that’s the good thing about being British. Britain is full of loads of different types of people. And when you live in London, we boast about London being multicultural but really it's monocultural because everyone’s walking around in the same direction and saying the same things to each other and demonstrating what they think is right and wrong to people who also have the same opinions. Just take everyone at zero and see what number you get to. That's a real lack of prejudice, take everyone as they come. But It’s like being in a cultural reverberation chamber sometimes. It’s good to get lost and get taken to places that make you feel uncomfortable. That’s what good art does. Art that does very well financially is usually art that makes you feel be comfortable and safe. That’s the opposite of contemporary art, it’s supposed to show you things from a diverse perspective. Put you in a different position. It makes you feel awkward. All learning makes you feel awkward. I think we love things that defy expectation, because we hadn’t thought of it ourselves. That’s one of the great things about the time we live in, that we’re alive for, is the surprises. That we’re actually, tangibly here. They make you feel alive. It feels like the world, and the way that time, information and attention have been monetized that the world seems increasingly the same. And it’s not a globalisation thing, it’s an attitude thing. My car in the morning automatically tells me to come to work in the morning because I’ve done it so many times in the past. But what if I want to go on the train instead? I’d have a different experience. We’re always being told to do things now, based on what we’ve already done. But the joy of living is you do things differently. Take the long way into work, get on the wrong bus. They’re all the things now that stress us out. I went to the circus yesterday with my kids and it was heaving, there was only one way out for the cars parked in the field and I knew it would take an hour to get out and I saw everyone racing off at the end of the show and thought ‘shit we’re gonna be last’ but then my dad said ‘yeah but maybe we’ll have fun for an hour in this empty circus tent. With the popcorn vendor. ‘When you get to my age, any hour when that you’re not doing ‘something’ you usually do is good because it's different.


Great point. The privilege of hindsight. Do you think that authenticity is more important now?

When I think of authenticity I think of uniqueness, but they’re not really the same thing. Authenticity is more I’m a big Shinto appreciator, I like the idea that we look after the things we own, the objects in the world that are ours. But we don’t take them with us and we know that. And that we only need one thing. I've been to Japan like, 30 times. I love going to restaurants in Japan where the chef has one pair of steel chopsticks, one knife, one slotted spoon, and they wash them after each time they use them, so there’s never loads of washing up. There’s a nice economy to it, an economy of means, of time, of energy. And the fact that that slotted spoon is the best slotted spoon that’s ever been made. And it means a lot to them. It crosses into Buddhism as well but it's more Shinto. When my kids break something at home I get really annoyed because I believe you should respect objects. Every object has kami, a soul. It’s all a bit mystic, but when I think about authenticity I think about it in relation to tangible things. And your relationship with tangible things. It’s good to have a really good thing that you only need one of, ever. You get it a lot with fly fishers. It’s the signifier of a memory. I went to Michael Stipe’s apartment in NY and he told me to sit on a Bruer chair and took some photos of me and then he said ‘guess whose chair that was’ and I looked under it and there was a pair of ratty high heels under it. And I said ‘oh Marilyn Monroe’s’ and it was. He’d bought them at an auction and was taking pictures of people sitting on the chair wearing the shoes. I was like ‘we shouldn’t be sitting on it!’ My Japanese gallerist, he’s got a beautiful 700 year old pot, Bizzen pottery where you put ash in the kiln and it gives it a metallic colour. And he serves beans in it. It’s worth 20 thousand quid. I thought that was insane but he’d use it, It’s not an artwork, it’s a bowl! It's a great bowl with significant historical stories but it's still a bowl, if I didn’t use it, it’s almost be offensive or rude to the bowl. To deny the bowl its spirit or kami not to be used. It doesn’t matter anyway when you’re dead. You’re dead! It's all legacy and provenance. If you buy a new phone it doesn’t have either, it doesn't have any sentimentality or nostalgia or attachment of any kind. But then it's full of these photos. It’s almost like you’re buying the key to get back to it. Yeah. Locking up the things that mean things to us. What’s the pair of shoes your dad gave you before he died. Or his grandad’s shoes. Or died in. Or married your mum in. The great thing about objects is they’re containers or vessels for stories. It’s the stories that are interesting.


Did you know about Lavenham before this?

Yeah a bit, I think I saw it in a Japanese magazine. I saw the Labour and Wait collab, probably because I was targeted on the internet, they’re always listening! Similar ethos at Labour and Wait, you buy one and have it for 34 years, you don’t have to keep replacing it. A lot of boutiques, you get a lot of them in Berlin where they just sell a toothbrush and a fixed wheel bike. Just two things. And neither of the two things are what you need when you go in. Completely illogical.