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Brilliant Ideas Episode #14:
Theaster Gates

Real estate artist, adding art to life

<Ground Rules(Scrimmage)> 2015 Wood flooring 254.5×373.5×6.5 cm(100 3/16×147 1/16×2 9/16in) ⓒ Theaster Gates Photo ⓒ White Cube(Ben Westoby)

The practicing artist

Rebuild Foundation’s Stony Island Arts Bank Photo by: Tom Harris ⓒ Hedrich Blessing ⓒ Hedrich Blessing Courtesy of Rebuild Foundation

Art is often conceived as unrelated to our lives, as merely a part of decorating a room. Theaster Gates, an installation artist and an urban planner, has changed this type of conception about art. The Chicago-based artist not only contributes to improving the level of culture and arts of the local society by breathing new life into abandoned buildings, but also provides generous support for African-American artists like himself through his projects.

Gates has been leading the neighbors in need of a helping hand to a better life through art, and has made efforts to narrow the gap between art and our everyday lives through projects transforming days of life to be more vigorous and beautiful. The 14th episode of Brilliant Ideas by Bloomberg and Hyundai Motor will follow the journey of Gates, the practicing artist, enriching life through his art.

Art changing daily life

Rebuild Foundation’s Stony Island Arts Bank Photo by: Steve Hall ⓒ Hedrich Blessing Courtesy of Rebuild Foundation

Dorchester Project(2006-) is the most widely known project of the artist, in which a neglected building in ruins is transformed into a new space for culture and arts. When many American cities were facing bankruptcy due to the subprime mortgage crisis in 2008, he used the crisis as a stepping-stone to the launch of a new project. Gates purchased a small house in western Chicago with all he had and presented a performing art in which he swept the house while speaking a line, “This is a performing art”, which drew the neighbors’ attention. The nearby residents then started to gather, and the abandoned space turned into a cultural space for stage performances, exhibitions, or simple dinner gatherings with the neighbors. Through this project, Gates realized that a building is not used for only one purpose but can be used for various activities. Starting from this, he created Black Cinema House by buying a warehouse in Chicago that used to be a place for drug transactions, and screened movies in the building, which were deeply related to the local residents, while also providing residency space for artists. In addition, the artist constructed the Listening room filled with 8,000 LP records to provide a space in which one can meditate and feel artistic energy, leading the communication between artists and local residents.

Rebuild Foundation’s Stony Island Arts Bank Photo by: Steve Hall ⓒ Hedrich Blessing Courtesy of Rebuild Foundation

“Stony Island Arts Bank”, which was completed this autumn, once again represents Gates’ principle of changing a deserted building into an artistic place. A neglected building of a bank filled with water six feet high could not attract anyone’s attention, which resulted in difficulties in raising a fund for the project. The artist, however, having completed the previous projects successfully, could purchase the bank building at one dollar with the help of the Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel. Gates also raised 5,000 dollars at the Art Basel 2013 by creating a hundred cubes on which a text, “In Art We Trust”, is engraved. The cubes were created by recycling pieces of marble from the bank and he started the bank reconstruction project based on this money. The bank in ruin was reborn into an art complex including an exhibition hall, an event room, a library and a record room. The project was a big success, which invigorated the local society.
As seen from the remark by the artist given when “Stony Island Arts Bank” opened, that the place is for next-generation African-American artists’ artistic experiments and for raising the neighborhood’s interest for culture, his projects are not about simply renovating an old building. He has pursued a synergy effect of vitalizing the local region through his projects he calls “real estate art”, and believes that more innovative ideas can be emerged from such vitalized environment.

Refocusing on realities of African-Americans

<Race Riot> 2012 Wood, fire hose, glass 84.5×67.5×14cm(33 1/4×26 9/16×5 1/2in.) ⓒ Theaster Gates Photo ⓒ White Cube(Ben Westoby)

As in many other works by African-American artists, “ethnicity” has also naturally become a subject matter of Gates’ projects. Also, the city of Chicago, in which he was born and has been creating his artworks, was one of the major destinations of the Great Migration, harboring a long history of African-American laborers. For this reason, based on the history and culture of African-Americans, Gates studies ongoing struggles for racial equality in the U.S. and further, the fundamental meaning of liberty through his visual works. Centered in his works is the African-American history such as slavery, labor, and civil rights activities.
In Event of a Race Riot(2011-) was created by stacking a bunch of long fire hoses, which were used for repressing peaceful demonstrations for civil rights by African-American students. The artwork reminds the audience the past demonstrations, and gives an opportunity for the audience to think about the present racial protests rising throughout America. Made of recycled woods, Shoe-Shine(2009) is reminiscent of a throne, showing a gap between the nuance of the material and that of the completed work. In this work, Gates focused on the concept of labor by highlighting a role of attending, which still remains as a frame that confines African-Americans even after the abolition of slavery.

<Gone are the Days of Shelter and Martyr> 2015 Concrete, metal, slate, wood, rubber tubes, mechanical breathing apparatus Dimensions variable ⓒ Theaster Gates Photo ⓒ White Cube(Francesco Allegretto)

Meanwhile, Gates has led Black Monks of Mississippi since 2009, a musical performance based on the African-American culture. Described as “an experiment in a form of a musical ensemble activity”, the performance further spreads the African-American culture and presents the African-American traditions mixed with other cultures, featuring artists from various genres. Black Monks of Mississippi has one rule: to represent the characteristics of African-American gospel music. The music of the performance is strictly in the form of the blues music, of which Gates feels proud, considering the blues music as the most important root of the American music.
Through his works, Gates casts a critical eye over the history and realities of African-American people, and refocuses on the fact that their traditions affect the American society. Such view is also represented in Gates' support for African-American artists like him who maintaining their ethnic identities and continue artistic activities. Gates is an active artist, who does not hesitate to reveal his identity as an African-American in various ways, and to spread his presence beyond the border of ethnicity. ■ with ARTINPOST

  • Rebuild Foundation’s Stony Island Arts Bank

    Photo by Tom Harris ⓒ Hedrich Blessing Courtesy of Rebuild Foundation

    Rebuild Foundation’s Stony Island Arts Bank Photo by Tom Harris ⓒ Hedrich Blessing Courtesy of Rebuild Foundation
  • Rebuild Foundation’s Stony Island Arts Bank

    Photo by: Steve Hall ⓒ Hedrich Blessing Courtesy of Rebuild Foundation

    Rebuild Foundation’s Stony Island Arts Bank Photo by: Steve Hall ⓒ Hedrich Blessing Courtesy of Rebuild Foundation
  • Rebuild Foundation’s Stony Island Arts Bank

    Photo by: Tom Harris ⓒ Hedrich Blessing ⓒ Hedrich Blessing Courtesy of Rebuild Foundation

    Rebuild Foundation’s Stony Island Arts Bank Photo by: Tom Harris ⓒ Hedrich Blessing ⓒ Hedrich Blessing Courtesy of Rebuild Foundation
  • Rebuild Foundation’s Stony Island Arts Bank

    Photo by: Steve Hall ⓒ Hedrich Blessing Courtesy of Rebuild Foundation

    Rebuild Foundation’s Stony Island Arts Bank Photo by: Steve Hall ⓒ Hedrich Blessing Courtesy of Rebuild Foundation
  • Installation view of <Soul Manufacturing Corporation: To Make the Thing that Makes the Things> at The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia 2013

    Photo credit: Carlos Avendano

    Installation view of <Soul Manufacturing Corporation: To Make the Thing that Makes the Things> at The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia 2013 Photo credit: Carlos Avendano
  • Theaster Gates making pottery for <Soul Manufacturing Corporation: To Make the Thing that Makes the Things> at The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia 2013

    Photo Credit: Carlos Avendano

    Theaster Gates making pottery for <Soul Manufacturing Corporation: To Make the Thing that Makes the Things> at The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia 2013 Photo Credit: Carlos Avendano
  • <Ground Rules(Scrimmage)> 2015

    Wood flooring 254.5×373.5×6.5 cm(100 3/16×147 1/16×2 9/16in) ⓒ Theaster Gates Photo ⓒ White Cube(Ben Westoby)

    <Ground Rules(Scrimmage)> 2015 Wood flooring 254.5×373.5×6.5 cm(100 3/16×147 1/16×2 9/16in) ⓒ Theaster Gates Photo ⓒ White Cube(Ben Westoby)
  • <Civil Rights Tapestry 1> 2012

    Decommissioned fire hose 179×332×9cm ⓒ Theaster Gates Photo by Ben Westoby Courtesy White Cube

    <Civil Rights Tapestry 1> 2012 Decommissioned fire hose 179×332×9cm ⓒ Theaster Gates Photo by Ben Westoby Courtesy White Cube
  • <Ebony Vitrine 1> 2012

    Lath, glass, paper, black felt 88×88×15cm(34 5/8×34 5/8×5 7/8in.) ⓒ Theaster Gates Photo ⓒ White Cube(Ben Westoby) Courtesy Johnson Publishing Company, LLC

    <Ebony Vitrine 1> 2012 Lath, glass, paper, black felt 88×88×15cm(34 5/8×34 5/8×5 7/8in.) ⓒ Theaster Gates Photo ⓒ White Cube(Ben Westoby) Courtesy Johnson Publishing Company, LLC
  • <Race Riot> 2012

    Wood, fire hose, glass 84.5×67.5×14cm(33 1/4×26 9/16×5 1/2in.) ⓒ Theaster Gates Photo ⓒ White Cube(Ben Westoby)

    <Race Riot> 2012 Wood, fire hose, glass 84.5×67.5×14cm(33 1/4×26 9/16×5 1/2in.) ⓒ Theaster Gates Photo ⓒ White Cube(Ben Westoby)
  • <Gone are the Days of Shelter and Martyr> 2015

    Concrete, metal, slate, wood, rubber tubes, mechanical breathing apparatus Dimensions variable ⓒ Theaster Gates Photo ⓒ White Cube(Francesco Allegretto)

    <Gone are the Days of Shelter and Martyr> 2015 Concrete, metal, slate, wood, rubber tubes, mechanical breathing apparatus Dimensions variable ⓒ Theaster Gates Photo ⓒ White Cube(Francesco Allegretto)
  • <Raising Goliath> 2012

    1967 Ford fire truck, magazines, tar bucket, mop, steel, wire Dimensions variable ⓒ Theaster Gates Photo ⓒ White Cube(Ben Westoby) Courtesy Johnson Publishing Company, LLC

    <Raising Goliath> 2012 1967 Ford fire truck, magazines, tar bucket, mop, steel, wire Dimensions variable ⓒ Theaster Gates Photo ⓒ White Cube(Ben Westoby) Courtesy Johnson Publishing Company, LLC

Profile

Theaster Gates

Born in 1973, in Chicago, United States, Theaster Gates is an installation artist who is also currently a professor of the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Chicago. Having studied sculpture and urban planning, Gates finds the way to contribute to revitalizing poor neighborhoods by combining urban planning and art practices. His works are made of historical objects and found materials from the neighborhoods and based on a social responsibility as well as a deep belief.
Through <In Event of a Race Riot>(2011~), the work that is consisted of piles of fire hoses, Gates reminds the audiences about the struggles for civil rights. Also, Gates is currently working on a project titled, ‘The Dorchester Project’(2006~). This is his most ambitious ongoing series about real estate development, revealing a part of a “circular ecological system”, which he calls “real-estate art”. Aiming to bridge the gap between art and our lives and to expand the range of art, artist Theaster Gates often collaborates with architects, researchers and performers. That is why his works are described as “critique through collaboration.”

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