Conversation: Spirituality and Belief
Gates' work resonates with stories, historical and fictional, spiritual and mundane. Belief and doubt, skepticism and commitment seem to inform his practice. What is the subject of belief in his work, and how is it constructed? What new notions of just-ness or ethics emerge from the material and the shapes the artist uses and/or makes? More broadly spoken, what might be an ethics of matter and how does it relate to the social?
Jane Bennett, Professor of Political Science, Johns Hopkins University
Mark Larrimore, Assoc. Professor of Religion, Lang College
In the company of
Aleksandra Wagner, Ass. Professor of Sociology, NSPE
Anthony Whitfield, Assoc. Professor of Art and Design, Parsons The New School
About the forum:
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, a lecture by Theaster Gates, 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, social, political and economic systems. Gates began Dorchester Projects in 2008 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.
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,– 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 and, 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 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. Please visit veralistcenter.org/engage/events/1885/theaster-gates-a-way-of-working/ for more information.