I was waiting outside the Fifty/Fifty Arts Collective, leaning against the dirty stucco of the old building, trying to ignore the loud traffic, cigarette butts, and buses spewing gritty diesel in my face. Not the best place in the city to wait for someone. Ethan Lester was late, which gave me a chance to gaze inside the windows at his latest installation, Lichen- Green Room. It looked like there had been a great party in there the night before. Broken furniture, beer cans, cigarette packages, and unidentifiable debris was strewn haphazardly all over the room. The unifying theme through the room was that the debris, left over from a hard night of partying, was coated in a thick layer of sea-foam green paint. The same colour paint was smeared and dripped on the floor, and carpet, and evidence of a paint-dipped green hand sliding across the gallery’s large front window, spelling the words “ Lichen and The Boys,” was the only evidence that someone did this on purpose. I was interested in the attitudes of the passers-by as they looked upon what could be described as a mess inside. I leaned back and pretended to play on my phone while I slyly watched the reactions of the innocent pedestrians. Many stopped and looked in, mumbling their confused reactions to their sidewalk partners. Some stopped, looked, shook their heads and walked on, and some wouldn’t look, eyes kept straight ahead. I was busy focusing on my phone, trying to look nonchalant, when Ethan rode up on his beat-up bike. His long elegant frame and pulled-back bun took me by surprise. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, but this young man, that looked like a younger version of David Ferguson of Suddenly Dance fame, was not it.
The telltale scents of stale beer and cigarettes were absent as we entered the gallery, which made me realise that I was in an artificial space, a mise-en-scene. I found my curiosity stimulated as I began to look at the various, small installation pieces that clung to the borders of the gallery. While Ethan busily turned-on lights and electronics, he explained that this installation, which he had created at Fifty/Fifty, was the green room for a band: a stage to complete his exploration into the fictional autobiography of the persona Lichen.
Then parts of the installation then sprang to life. A record player struggled to play a record while being precariously balanced on milk crates and tables. An 1980’s television rests on its back, with debris on its face, with just enough screen peeking out to allow its bright static to glow mysteriously, its only sound a muted white-noise. Shrine-like, found-object sculptures, like dressers and mirrors have been transformed with paint, candid photos and nostalgic memorabilia. Pictures of Jesus, collages of photographed penises, and a plethora of bits and pieces were pasted on the walls, scattered on the furniture and floor, which suggested that the kids at this party went a little too far. Yet, there is the order of the artist’s hand present.
The works on the walls are carefully crafted art. There is a large photograph of the artist sleeping. Methodically placed paper and other materials create a wall-sized collage in a sea-foam green colour pallette, which exposes the painter in Lester. Arguably, it is the continuity of sea-foam green, which covers the debris, that lifts this installation from an ordinary green-room, a normally forgotten space, into something different. Am I now sitting in a painting? Maybe that’s what I’m feeling. Lester doesn’t really explain why he used the paint, except that he really liked the colour. It makes the ordinary un-ordinary. The unifying sea-foam green ascends the debris to an otherworldly place, dare I say even a holy place.
Lester has found himself exploring a multi-genre discipline that, in this post-modern age, is becoming more the norm. Not satisfied with just painting, Lester is finding a way to fully investigate fictional autobiography, by jumping from medium to medium seamlessly. While doing his BFA at Western University, Lester used his body as the paintbrush to create his paintings. That was when his interest in performance art began. Now, midway through his MFA at UVIC, Ethan has immersed himself in the alter-ego of Lichen, the alternative, hipster rocker of his own creation.
Ethan started writing music while in the Lichen character, and now has a small band called Lichen and The Boys. They have created an album and performed live at the opening of Lichen--Green Room. While talking with Ethan, it seemed like he has fully actualized Lichen from conception to performance. Is the character finished? He’s not sure. But he definitely wants to put him in the back of the closet for now.
Lester is inspired by the confessional poetry of Sylvia Plath, especially The Bell Jar, and Virginia Woolf, and by the brutally honest lyrics of Lou Reed and Patti Smith. He takes points from David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust. Bowie’s ground breaking album gave Ethan the permission to push his Lichen persona beyond Bowie’s construction, and into a rich mise-en-scene. So, Lichen has been fully awakened and executed from the conception of the character, the music, the mise-en-scene and, finally, the live performance within the scene itself.
Lester has a list of characters waiting patiently in his closet of personas. Right now he is wrapping up Lichen. I will keep an eye and ear out for Ethan Lester’s next chapter.There was a hint at the desire to learn furniture making and the exploration of masculinity in labour, uttered with a mischievous little grin.
Lichen--Green Room can be viewed until June 30th.
Fifty/Fifty Arts Collective
2516 Douglas St, Victoria, BC
Video of Lichen and The Boys performance http://vimeo.com/68641716
Jillian Player is a visual artist who likes to write art reviews. http://www.jillianplayer.com/