Theaster Gates: A Way of Working

Vera List Center for Art and Politics The New School, New York, United States
18 Sep 2013 - 05 Oct 2013

In tribute to artist Theaster Gates, recipient of the inaugural Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics, the Vera List Center is presenting a conference, an artist lecture and a gallery installation, collectively entitled Theaster Gates: A Way of Working.

Dedicated to the artist’s prize-winning work Dorchester Projects, the conference is held on September 18 and 19, and is anchored by the opening celebration of the gallery installation on September 18, from 5:30 to 6:30 pm, a lecture by Theaster Gates at 7 pm, and the presentation of the prize, designed by Yoko Ono. A bold American artist with a global vision, Theaster Gates and his work expand the discourse of political enfranchisement and social inclusion. With a deep commitment to place, his practice crosses and realigns cultural, Asocial, political and economic systems. Gates began Dorchester Projects in 2006 by transforming two formerly abandoned buildings on Chicago’s South Side into community gathering spaces, with a library and slide archive, a Listening Room, and a soul food kitchen. In 2012, Gates added the Black Cinema House. The ongoing project provides new models for examining urban renewal and social justice through the lens of art, belief, alternative economics, and community engagement.

‘Theaster Gates’ project of historical reclamation, interrogation of archival legacies, and social construction of memory and cultural agency has it all tied together. Dorchester Projects is extraordinary. The installation layers a meditation on the present by connecting it to the haunted remains of the American past, making links with narratives of race consciousnesses, the Civil Rights Movements, but ultimately probing how the African American experience is enlivened by ongoing processes of testimony. Entering that installation is like entering a haunted space.’

Okwui Enwezor, Jury Chair , Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics

The forum appoints Theaster Gates’ exemplary project an object of study, to look at themes arising from the work – such as migration, belief, organizing – and ask topical questions such as: what is the relationship between social justice and aesthetic practices? What new notions of social justice arise when instigated by art? How can we speak of and learn from successful projects far way? How can we evaluate the success of Dorchester Projects and similarly politically engaged art projects?

The goal of the forum is to mark a transition to understanding these topics and questions when expressed materially. How do these issues appear through material life, and what forms of distribution are available? In recognition of the convergences, elisions, and contradictions in the multilayered practice of Theaster Gates, the forum is conceived like chords of a song – thematic strands are identified at the beginning of each conversation through succinct pronouncements and questions, but interconnect with each other in engaging and sometimes surprising ways that flow freely and across disciplines.

The first day, from 10 am to 2:30 pm – in the presence of the artist – brings together voices from fields such as art, urban policy, economics and religious studies from The New School and beyond. Topics for discussion include: migration, spirituality and belief, ecologies of organizing, and vocabularies and modes of criticality. Forum Part I culminates in the opening reception of the installation Theaster Gates: A Way of Working from 5:30 – 6:30 pm and, at 7 pm, the presentation of the inaugural Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics to Theaster Gates, followed by a lecture by the artist.

On the second day, from 10 am to 12 pm, the presenters reconvene for a more intimate, reflective discussion, revisiting the activities of the previous day and providing a framework for an ongoing investigation of Gates’ work that will continue during the exhibition and through New School classes and public events. Proceedings of the forum will also inform the VLC reader on art and social justice, to be published in 2014.

More information on Theaster Gates and Dorchester Projects here



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