Like Sex Pistols to “My Way”

 – Vasif Kortun


by Vasif Kortun

Gabriel Lester employs the age old tradition of installation practice. His installations are like walking through an editing studio. All around you are sequences of single frames of film footage. They are arranged in particular orders; intentionally stacked and serialized in an order that does not at initially make sense, and looks at best scattered. The film itself has been finished and screened some time ago. This strategy is echoed in an early single-channel video Grafitti (1999) where the viewer is treated merely to the credits at the end of film, and the names keep on rolling. The credits remain consistently out of focus forcing the viewer to make things legible again in exactly the same way one has to negotiate his/her own story out of Lester’s installations. The end itself is neither provided nor even suggested. At times, Lester’s work feels like a take between takes, the take that never makes it to the seamless story and ends discarded. Lester writes that  “in one of my first films was a “long-shot” of a parking lot where one person was standing. Every now and then somebody would pass him and greet him, say something or make some gesture. What I was looking for with this image was how in one scene the message or narrative or atmosphere can change according to the people who enter the scene. The “story” surrounding the man on the parking lot was shaped by him meeting others…”

Lester’s critical entry into contemporary art came with a work that he showed first at the Rijks Academy where he created a syncopated sound and light installation, it was a Hollywood based cinematic collage of overlayed scenes from thrilllers to seventies disco floor except for the images that would accompany it. The process of taking a story apart, and allowing a different reconstruction from fragments is something that Lester has been peoccupied with: the rift between telling a story in images and images that tell stories. The viewer, enveloped in in this atmosphere of auratic immediacy, is left with one choice, work a bit, enjoy a bit and make fiction from fiction.

One could say that all of Lester’s work is contingent on the memory of something read, shared or experienced. This dependence on memory is critical to the operation. In the course of our correspondences in the past, Lester wrote “who is to say that if we would indeed invent the wheel all over again it would lead to same application?” and in another letter, “Like the Sex Pistols to ‘My Way!'” This may describe his way of working implicates the viewer in that the truth about a situation is neither predetermined nor can it be predeterministic. This is a generous way of being with the world. For “This is for Real” (Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 2000) Lester wrote a critical speech about the institution, pressed it to vinyl, and had two DJs perform it at the opening. The DJs fragmented, relayered, sped up and slowed down the speech to give a sense of the source material. He is completely circumspect about the use of the fragments, He is not, paradoxically, in a practice of obfuscation, but to the contrary in a practice of generosity where the viewer too has to do some work. You have to give to get, and it is not about asinine trickery or a masquarede of quick-wittedness, but something that tickles the mind and the soul by whatever means possible.

In  the recent installations of Lester one has the the uncanny feeling of walking into a film stage. The installation is like a skin grafted on the place it inhabits confirming at once its impropability Such is the case in the waiting room through which the viewer is led unexpectedly through a secret entrance to  something that looks like an emptied yet  pristine and scary laboratory in the installation at the Fons Welters gallery (Amsterdam,  2003).  The film scene where an inquisitive intruder pulls a book off a shelf in an office or a smoking room, a lever is triggered, a wall rotates around its axis, and the intruder finds him/herself in the enigma, of a protoganist or a villain of dubious interests. Here, a waiting room is for a story to be made or deciphered, and the ante room where the laboratory sits, has been emptied out as to not give a hint of what has transpired there. Between the space unpromised (the waiting room) and the curious promise of experimentation (laboratory) as ominous as it may be, we are left in a limbo of half clues. Art aint what is used to be, and the stage-set operates like an afterthought. The Sketches of Space (Gemeents Museum, The Hague, 2002) and the Gift of Gab (Platform, Istanbul, 2002), are installations that took in the antithetical, cities of the Hague and Istanbul, the thin stripes of mirrors on the  walls, and the thin columns of timber as well as the painting-objects behind them evoked  visions of abstact modernism with the fragmentation of time/place in the Hague, and recalled the scaffoldings and the fire-stairs frames of Istanbul. These self-conscious references are however presented in an informal, and at times, down-right jocular context. Such was Altar (De Appel. Amsterdam, 2001) that looked  like a shooting gallery, rhythmically sequencing  a large memerobilia wall for a pub cum community center. The memerobilia was invented on the spot when Lester persuaded  passers by and total strangers in front of the De Appel to come in and pose for the project. 

The installation, “A Beautiful Gamble”, at IASPIS will evoke the shop displays where carpets and backdrops fold over each other to create a dazzling display of colors and forms in one continous wall. Each show is hopefully a gamble, and the further gamble lies in the hope of realizing the show with very precious historical backdrops some of which are from the large theaters in Stockholm. In opposition to the stark winter of the North, and the kitsch-reception of the fundamentals of Swedish design, the project offers a incessantly oriental frame like a nineteenth century over-the-top orientalist studio where hierarchies are dissolved for one big warm and all enveloping atmosphere.