Thursday, March 31, 2022

Ghosts, past, present, and future


Ghosts, past, present, and future

As well as exhibits at Sunderland Minster and Durham Cathedral, the National Glass Centre’s Glass Exchange project includes an empty site on Sunderland’s High Street West. Ryan Gander’s ‘Ghost Shop,’ a half-gutted and abandoned betting shop made entirely of clear glass, bears forensic witness to the decline of the high street, following the exodus of flagship department stores, the vacuum filled with a wasteland of charity shops, discount stores, betting establishments and fast-food franchises, themselves now in danger.

‘Ghost Shop’ is an extraordinary piece. Furniture, signage, an upturned pedal-bin spilling over with cans and cups and straws, balled-up betting slips discarded on the floor, a plant in the window, fire extinguishers against the back wall, flyers advertising other businesses pushed under the door—all in glass. The ordinary detritus of life, hallowed, rendered visible by making it transparent.

Within a week of unveiling, part of the shelf running along one wall has fallen off and, being made of glass, smashed into shards and dust. At first glance, it isn’t clear whether this is part of the statement or not. On second glance, not; and a source of sadness. With third glance, dawning realisation that this, too, adds to the conversation. Decline and fall. The temporary and changing nature of all things. Everything beautiful in its time.

Here is testimony, not only to the high street, but to our hopes and dreams, those things we chase after and, at best, break even, over the course of a lifetime. At best. Testimony, also, to our history, to our story. Our past is a ghost, leaves unquiet trace: we cannot rid ourselves of who we once were, of our associations, our pass times and passions, our pursuits. Our future is, yet unknowable. Our present, transcended.

Qohelet, the Teacher, the one who said that everything is beautiful in its time, also said that God has placed eternity in the human heart, though we can never grasp it in our hands. Considering this, he advises us, be happy and find joy in life, eating, drinking, working, understanding all this as God’s gift to us. The overflowing pedal-bin. The moments in the betting shop, not in pursuit of riches that will not satisfy, but for its own sake. The passing conversations that still echo in the sealed box left behind, as we now stand outside, looking in. Ryan Gander may just be Qohelet’s heir.


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