Gabriel Lester

CAC Vilnius, Lithuania

In ‘The Nine Day Week’, his solo exhibition at CAC Vilnius, Gabriel Lester weaves fantastical narratives around commonplace items: a building for stick insects; artificial trees piled in the corner of the gallery; Andy Kaufman’s alter-ego Tony Clifton’s jacket remade by a Chinese tailor. Recalling theatrical props, Lester’s sculptures are often accompanied by back-stories revealed in the exhibition’s accompanying interpretation. In 7 (2016), made in collaboration with the artist Valentina Desideri, a line of sandbags on the floor supposedly contain healing rituals based on the seven bodily chakras that the artists have written down, burned and mixed with semi-precious stones. Or have they? Without opening the bags, it would be difficult to verify their contents. Like any compelling narrator, Lester asks us to take a leap of faith.

Gabriel Lester, 'The Nine Day Week', 20116-17, CAC Vilnius. Courtesy: CAC Vilnius; photographs: Andrej Vasilenko

Gabriel Lester, 'The Nine Day Week', 20116-17, CAC Vilnius. Courtesy: CAC Vilnius; photographs: Andrej Vasilenko

Gabriel Lester, 'The Nine Day Week', 20116-17, CAC Vilnius. Courtesy: CAC Vilnius; photographs: Andrej Vasilenko

Doubt pervades this exhibition, which represents the second part of ‘The Itinerary of Twists’, a touring show of Lester’s recent projects following ‘Unresolved’, held earlier this year at De Appel Arts Centre in Amsterdam. Including collaboration, works by other artists, and remixes of older pieces by Lester, the show betrays the artist’s background as a rapper, musician and film director. Like a big-budget hip hop album, the exhibition is an ensemble, situating Lester as the nexus within an expanded network. While the gallery space is bathed in a crepuscular light, the works are expertly spotlit, amplifying their theatrical qualities. The protean nature of Lester’s practice – shifting between moving image, sculpture, text and installation – is anchored in the vocabulary of cinema and theatre.

The Tragedy (2016), made in collaboration with artist Jonas Lund, consists of a camera lens embedded in a false wall. As I look through it at the street below, its mechanical iris opens and closes, its rhythm, according to the accompanying text, dictated by a ‘moon based algorithm’. The cosmic and incidental merge, with the residents of Vilnius becoming unwitting protagonists in an ad hoc piece of street theatre. As I watch a couple chatting on the pavement I start to feel like James Stewart in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954). If I look long enough, will meaning emerge? Life, unlike cinema, rarely provides a convenient conclusion, and Lester’s work is situated in this space of ongoing suspense. In On the Rocks (2016), a group of nondescript wooden chairs with their legs cut at different points lie crookedly on the floor. The feeling of unease is heightened when I learn that the amputations were performed after Lester’s show by staff at the beleaguered De Appel, as a way of lamenting the gallery, which was recently threatened with closure. Damaged but not quite broken, the chairs appear to be on the verge of sinking, yet is buoyed by an ineffable spirit.

Gabriel Lester, 'The Nine Day Week', 20116-17, CAC Vilnius. Courtesy: CAC Vilnius; photographs: Andrej Vasilenko

Gabriel Lester, 'The Nine Day Week', 20116-17, CAC Vilnius. Courtesy: CAC Vilnius; photographs: Andrej Vasilenko

Gabriel Lester, 'The Nine Day Week', 20116-17, CAC Vilnius. Courtesy: CAC Vilnius; photographs: Andrej Vasilenko

The most explicitly political work in the show is Murmur (2016), made with Russia’s radical theatre company Teatr.doc during the 6th Moscow Biennial in 2015. In the video, a small orchestra is temporarily incarcerated inside a civic building. Small holes have been cut out of the wall to allow them to play their instruments on the other side. The image flicks between their protruding arms and legs and the musicians bickering amongst themselves on the other side of the wall. In the context of the Russian government’s increasingly prohibitive attitude towards dissent (Teatr.doc have faced censorship), Lester’s film makes a typically wry critique. With artists and musicians like Pussy Riot facing actual imprisonment, Murmur describes a situation where creativity may be celebrated but criticality is scorned. The wall hides a deeper discord beneath the performed conviviality. In the sculpture Open Minded (2016), Lester has added crude eye-like holes to the back of two Greek plaster busts, offering a clear line of sight through their hollow heads. The work suggests that art can be a way of looking through someone else’s eyes – the more we see, the less we know, and meaning can start to proliferate in the lacunae.

Most Read

Ignoring its faux-dissident title, this year's edition at the New Museum displays a repertoire that is folky, angry,...
An insight into royal aesthetics's double nature: Charles I’s tastes and habits emerge as never before at London’s...
In other news: Artforum responds to #NotSurprised call for boycott of the magazine; Maria Balshaw apologizes for...
At transmediale in Berlin, contesting exclusionary language from the alt-right to offshore finance
From Shanghai to Dubai, a new history charts the frontiers where underground scenes battle big business for electronic...
Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Bruton, UK
Zihan Karim, Various Way of Departure, 2017, video still. Courtesy: Samdani Art Foundation
Can an alternative arts network, unmediated by the West's commercial capitals and burgeoning arts economies of China...
‘That moment, that smile’: collaborators of the filmmaker pay tribute to a force in California's film and music scenes...
In further news: We Are Not Surprised collective calls for boycott of Artforum, accuses it of 'empty politics'; Frida...
We Are Not Surprised group calls for the magazine to remove Knight Landesman as co-owner and withdraw move to dismiss...
Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film is both gorgeous and troubling in equal measure
With Zona Maco opening in the city today, a guide to the best exhibitions across the Mexican capital
The question at the heart of Manchester Art Gallery’s artwork removal: what are the risks when cultural programming...
In further news: Sonia Boyce explains removal of Manchester Art Gallery’s nude nymphs; Creative Scotland responds to...
Ahead of the India Art Fair running this weekend in the capital, a guide to the best shows to see around town
The gallery argues that the funding body is no longer supportive of institutions that maintain a principled refusal of...
The Dutch museum’s decision to remove a bust of its namesake is part of a wider reconsideration of colonial histories,...
At New York’s Metrograph, a diverse film programme addresses a ‘central problem’ of feminist filmmaking
Ronald Jones pays tribute to a rare critic, art historian, teacher and friend who coined the term Post-Minimalism
In further news: curators rally behind Laura Raicovich; Glasgow's Transmission Gallery responds to loss of Creative...
Nottingham Contemporary, UK
‘An artist in a proud and profound sense, whether he liked it or not’ – a tribute by Michael Bracewell
Ahead of a show at Amsterdam’s EYE Filmmuseum, how the documentarian’s wandering gaze takes in China’s landscapes of...
In further news: Stedelijk explains why it cancelled Ettore Sottsass retrospective; US National Gallery of Art cancels...
With 11 of her works on show at the Musée d'Orsay, one of the most underrated artists in modern European history is...
Reopening after a two-year hiatus, London’s brutalist landmark is more than a match for the photographer’s blockbuster...
What the Google Arts & Culture app tells us about our selfie obsession
At a time of #metoo fearlessness, a collection of female critics interrogate their own fandom for music’s most...
A rare, in-depth interview with fashion designer Jil Sander

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

October 2017

frieze magazine

November - December 2017

frieze magazine

January - February 2018