Ryan Gander and Stuart Bailey’s APPENDIX APPENDIX is now distant history, published in 2007, but the book is one of those warm strange works with staying power, so ranging and unruly that we have to sometimes trust in what it’s up to. The publication is a proposal for a 12-part television program – a highly experimental one, and potentially very good – built from pre-existing things; other films, interviews and snippets of text from well-known directors, writers and artists who Bailey and Gander call their Cast. Somewhere beneath all this the book is a catalog of various installation work from Gander, though his artworks are so woven into the texture of the larger project it can often be hard to tell. The book “channels” Gander’s pieces (the ones that will allow it) into a broader conversation about contemporary art practice with each episode circling a different theme.
APPENDIX APPENDIX is tremendous in a way, a vast piece of collage work imagined across media but retrofitted for the page. It’s that sense of print being not quite suited to the project that makes the medium perfect. The quaint strobed effect of movie clips laid out in sequence is somehow analog in an age when the video might now be easily embedded. But we get to see the bones a little bit; read the voiceovers, the cuts, fades, cues and title-cards that manually hinge the thing together, and of course that’s the point. Gander and Bailey may have never intended to make this thing for real – it’s an unfinishable draft in concept – but there’s no doubt they mean it. This isn’t supposed to be farce or an exercise in what the medium will and won’t permit. It tests the limits though. It all becomes reflexive, and the book itself is overtaken by the principles of the thing it wants to swallow. The experimental echos back, and that involution is there from the start. The book’s colophon comes 15 pages in, following program one, something like credits rolling after the opening scene.
Early on, a series of videos start with a clip from something called Fat Man on a Beach (1973). A man snaps a polaroid, checks his watch, and spins the image around to reveal the camera and crew who are filming him. The audio goes: “A man taking picture of a man taking pictures. There must be something in that.” (Probably, right?). Then it’s Orson Welles in F for Fake, revealing the tricks of cinema in his magisterial way. And the opening of Godard’s Le Mepris. Bardot walking the long stretch at Cinecitta with a second camera tracking alongside her. It stops in the foreground and swivels around to gaze into the camera we’re looking out of. We can imagine these clips in continuous sequence, each one stripped of aesthetic value but deeply illustrative of the authors’ ramshackle thesis that eddies around the work. The book carries on like this, counting off these significant rifts here and there in film history, and then it squares up and tries to gulp itself entirely: an image of a meeting room in Los Angeles, Gander and Bailey pitching the very concept of APPENDIX APPENDIX to a producer who (forgivably) works to understand the motives, characters, and arc that ties it all together. The pages showing the 12 episodes are hung in a grid around the room. Bailey is in the foreground taking up half the frame, his enormous eye peering into the camera as a kind of over the top parody of the glance-back.
In many of Gander’s works there’s the hint of backstory not quite available to the viewer. We’ve been given just enough information to feel the shape of a narrative, to know that something has happened, maybe that something’s gone wrong. In one video work, we get a slow zoom on a snow-covered car in an untracked field, and we’re not sure how it’s ended up there. There’s another work that asks a gallery attendant to dress in an all-white tracksuit with an embroidered blood stain on the leg. Gander invents a word, MITIM, and builds a jumble of bauhaus chess pieces. These works and circumstances are meant to be puzzled at, though probably never solved.
And one of the book’s main fascinations early on is a text from writer Jonathon Coe, who feels a deep affection for Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. The nostalgia for that work, tethered to a childhood memory of an early screening, carries through his life as he tries to track down any information he can about it. The haunting of Miklos Rozsa’s music in the film is a fixation all its own. Somehow that doubled sleuthing – Sherlock’s horizontal hunt within the film and Coe’s hunt around it, becomes a powerful framework for the detective spirit that is, at heart, artistic.
“I want to know why we are always making trailers for films that don’t exist, writing fragments of novels that have no beginning or ending, organizing performances for fictional bands.” What APPENDIX APPENDIX has done, the real cheap trick of it, is making the work of the detective into the work of the magician. And they both sort of say: I saw it happen but I have no idea how it was done.“