(…) And that’s how it is with “Once upon a time”. We can’t see where it ends. Grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather … it makes you spin. But say it again, slowly, and in the end you’ll be able to imagine it. Then add one more. That gets us quickly back into the past, and from there into the distant past. But you will never reach the beginning, because behind every beginning there’s always another “Once upon a time”. It’s like a bottomless well…. Does all this looking down make you dizzy?
– E. H. Gombrich, Little History of the World, 2005.
Gabriel Lester’s work “Pro-motion” is about the moving image, literally. To move through the exhibition is to partake in the symphony of movement enveloping you. What may at first seem like a series of disjointed sculptural elements, unmask themselves progressively as Lester’s playful twist on storytelling. Like much of Lester’s artworks the emphasis here is on the experiential and the illusory. As such, what might at first seem like a precise placement and choreography is actually a construction improvised in dialogue with the physicality of the space itself.
Lester’s practice is continually appropriating the mechanisms of cinema highlighting its methods of manipulation. In “Pro-motion” this aspect of the work is merely utilitarian, Lester mirrors these mechanisms for their effect rather than function. Whereas cinematic technique/apparatus is employed to engross you into another’s world, Lester passes it on as a gift to be employed by its holder. The juxtaposition of the newly constructed ramp and constant scanning by the moving lights expose the already stripped and deconstructed space. Seeing its details, histories and scars exposed, makes exploring the space an act of intimate if intrusive witnessing (like reading someone’s diary or accidentally walking in on a lovers’ tiff). The varied trajectories for navigating the space, and the continuous change in the surrounding imagery, ensure every viewer’s experience remains both personal and incidental.
The narrative running through the work is the possibility of a narrative; it is about how to tell a story. Lester’s choice of imagery however does offer a thread to follow and unravel any number of possible tales. To enter the installation is to confront a deluge of iconic images that are familiar in atmosphere yet ambiguous in their time and place. The images, scenographically similar, allude to filmic moments where the existential crisis visually reproduces the heroine’s feelings of emptiness: an endless tunnel, a drive on a dark highway, a desolate town, a black void… These images are ventures into the unknown like Lester’s endless ramp or the never-ending revolutions of the conveyor belt.
Does all this looking down make you dizzy? Not unlike Gombrich’s analogy of the water well, “Pro-motion” is ungraspable as it is continuous and continuing; you can only predict as far as you can see…. As I write this text on an advancing train, staring at the moving image outside, I wonder on which side of the glass this story is unfolding.
Text: Mai Abu ElDahab