Gabriel Lester [Holland]

A Man of Action

location: wall, 10/11 Stare Domki Str.

From early studies in electronic music and writing prose to more recent activity in film school, set building and plein air theatre, the work of Dutch artist Gabriel Lester speaks the structures of composition. As much (if not more) interested in how we see, as what we see, Lester takes a reflective approach to the frames of reference that influence our daily actions. In his words, “[My] artworks seldom convey any explicit message or singular idea, but rather propose ways to relate to the world, how it is presented, and what mechanisms and components constitute our perception and understanding of it.” What he finds in this perceptual landscape is the continuing influence of cinema upon eyes, mind and body: shaping the way we see and live our surroundings. In response, he strips down both sides of the relationship to study them closer – dissecting film (and our perceptions) through videos, performances, objects and installations. Lester’s films and sets work in subsequent tandem to compress and expand cinema’s implicit codes. In so doing, everything from establishing shots and camera pans to lighting, sound and scenery are given starring roles on Lester’s structuralist stage. On the opposite side of the screen, the previously passive viewer is made an active participant in the generation of open plots. There are no clear stories in the self-conscious settings he creates, but it is “when,” according to Lester, “something is at once magic and recognizable, [that] the spectator becomes aware of his cognitive codes and conditions.”

In the Russian writer Fydor Dostoevsky’s 1864 existentialist novella Notes from the Underground, he envisions “a man of action” as a person who must act to affirm the self – moving and doing without ostensible purpose, simply to be. Lester suggests such a man in an ongoing series of performances filmed in exotic landscapes from the Andes in Peru to anonymous urban ruins. In this first iteration of the series the artist appears suddenly in a sublime mountainous landscape – embodying a form of “magical belief” as a way to survive the vast, unpredictable universe. He does so through an enthusiastically mimed collection of magician acts (i.e. pulling a rabbit out of a hat), prancing and posturing before himself disappearing in the blink of an eye. That these acts are performed on silent black & white Super 8 film – replete with flickering focus, grainy texture and rudimentary special effects – conjures the renowned work of illusionist George Méliès (1861-1938). Effectively bridging stage and screen, Méliès became a pioneer of early cinema for his accidental discovery (but skillful employment) of stop-motion animation, special effects and his experimentation with hand-painted sets. On the other hand, Lester’s long static shot (and the scene’s graduated depth of field) recalls the groundbreaking 1895 documentary film “Workers Leaving the Factory” by the Lumiere Brothers. When read together, this evocation of early films and filmmakers (and their important refinement of spatial dynamics) turns Lester’s deceptively simple motion picture into a complex cinematic archaeology.

A Man of Actions also animates the artist’s deconstructivist approach to subjects: stripping the magician’s routine of context, props and customary spectacle to focus purely on the motion; on a marvel boiled down to his basic humanity. By marrying two illusion-based actors (magician & mime), Lester paradoxically moves in the opposite direction: turning the actions – the often-overlooked transitions from trick to trick – vividly material. In so doing, their usual mystery and spell are relocated within the now activated mind of the audience. Rather than reading the illusion as something “outside” our being, Lester’s performance prompts us to “see” the fully realized illusion in our heads; in the memory banks so often dedicated to expunging that which is not real. Where mind and matter thus meet, his actions also reflect those that enliven an adjacent massage parlor; where a currency of motions, suggestions and mysticism is meant to heal both mind and body. In this movement of hands to transport the receiver into a transcendent place beyond material existence, Lester’s Man of Actions points to the alchemy that lives in the everyday.