Theaster Gates: A Way of Working

Conference Wed 18 Sep 2013 The New School, Theresa Lang Community and Student Center
55 West 13th Street, 2nd floor
New York City
Free and open to the public
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Wednesday, September 18, 10:00 a.m.–2:30 p.m.
Thursday, September 19, 10:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m.
Please refer to conference details below.

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, social, 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.

For more information on Theaster Gates and Dorchester Projects, see the Resource Guide below, available as a downloadable PDF.
    • Theaster Gates: A Way Of Working Forum; Conversation: Migration
    • Theaster Gates: A Way Of Working Forum; Conversation: Spirituality and Belief
    • Theaster Gates: A Way Of Working Forum; Conversation : Ecologies of Organizing
    • Theaster Gates: A Way Of Working Forum; Conversation: Vocabularies and Evaluations for Socially Engaged Art
      • K Dorchester Projects resource guide Download - pdf (293 kB)
Wednesday, September 18
Forum, Day 1
10:00 a.m.–2:30 p.m.
Theresa Lang Community Center, 55 West 13th Street
Facilitated by Shannon Jackson

10–10:15 a.m.
Opening Remarks and Introduction to Dorchester Projects
Shannon Jackson and Carin Kuoni

10:15–11:15 a.m.
Conversation: Migration
In the artist's work, the notion of migration is often coupled with labor and objects. What exactly is migrating when material, forms or spaces get repurposed, adapted, changed, transformed? What is the transformative labor performed by work and materials? What histories, memories or imaginings does material— buildings, songs, objects —harbor, and what do they become in an art or literary context? What notion of the local arises in Gates' work, and who are the participants?

Julia Foulkes, Assoc. Professor of History, The New School for Public Engagement (NSPE)
Richard Harper, Ass. Professor of Music/Voice, The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music
In the company of
Jasmine Rault, Ass. Professor of Culture and Media, Eugene Lang College, The New School for Liberal Arts
Tracyann Williams, Director of Academic Advising, Lecturer in Literature, NSPE

11:15 a.m.–12:15 p.m.
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

12:15–12:30 p.m.
Break, with refreshments

12:30–1:30p.m.
Conversation: Ecologies of Organizing
How do we organize and mobilize? In his work—the sculptures, performances but also the social structures—Gates has crafted complex and multilayered systems of meaning and value that intersect and align with systems usually considered to be outside a conventionally defined art practice. What is the transformative power of such overlays and alignments, and what time frames are useful? Is a temporary symbiosis among systems, i.e. a purpose-driven, temporary mobilization, valid and what potential for renewal do repetition, repurposing and practice hold?

As they discuss the ecologies of organizing, the speakers invariably touch on the overlays between systems of people and systems of matter.

Katayoun Chamany, Assoc. Professor of Biology, Lang College
Kevin McQueen, faculty, Community Development Finance Lab, NSPE
In the company of
Andrea Geyer, Assoc. Professor of New Genres, Parsons
Lydia Matthews, Professor of Visual Culture, Parsons

1:30–2:30 p.m.
Conversation: Vocabularies and Evaluations for Socially Engaged Art
Given Gates' far-reaching, transdisciplinary practice, how can vocabularies and understanding be developed that address and transcend the specific? Is precise registration, or institutionalization, of such criteria desirable? In view of current socially engaged practices, how to reconcile notions of participation with notions of authorship and critical reflection?

Shannon Jackson, Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor in the Arts and Humanities, Rhetoric and Performances Studies, UC Berkeley
Radhika Subramaniam, Director/Chief Curator, Sheila C. Johnson Design Center; Ass. Professor in Art and Design History, Parsons
In the company of
Cynthia Lawson, Associate Provost, School of Design Strategies, Parsons
Laura Auricchio, Dean of School of Undergraduate Studies and Associate Dean, NSPE

5 :00–6:30 p.m.
Opening celebration of gallery presentation Theaster Gates: A Way of Working

7:00 p.m.
Award Ceremony and Artist Lecture
Introduction by David Scobey, James-Keith Brown, and Carin Kuoni

Thursday, September 19
Forum, Day 2
10:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m.
Lang Community Center, 55 West 13th Street
Facilitated by Lydia Matthews

In light of Theaster Gates' keynote address from the night before, the presenters reconvene to provide further thoughts on the first-day deliberations, as well as the opening of the exhibition. The purpose of this second day-session is to elaborate on the most pertinent pronouncements and ideas from the previous day and to elaborate on how the discourse on art and social justice has been affected by the artist's exemplary Dorchester Projects.

Participants
Laura Auricchio, Dean of School of Undergraduate Studies and Associate Dean, The New School for Public Engagement (NSPE)
Jane Bennett, Professor of Political Science, Johns Hopkins University
Katayoun Chamany, Associate Professor of Biology, Eugene Lang College, The New School
Julia Foulkes, Associate Professor of History, NSPE
Theaster Gates, Artist
Andrea Geyer, Assistant Professor of New Genres, School of Art, Media, and Technology, Parsons The New School for Design
Richard Harper, Assistant Professor of Music/Voice, The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music
Shannon Jackson, Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor in the Arts and Humanities, Rhetoric and Performance Studies, University of California, Berkeley
Carin Kuoni, Director/Curator, Vera List Center for Art and Politics
Mark Larrimore, Associate Professor of Religion, Lang
Cynthia Lawson, Assistant Professor of Integrated Design, School of Design Strategies, Parsons
Lydia Matthews, Professor of Visual Culture, School of Art, Media, and Technology, Parsons
Kevin McQueen, Faculty at Community Development Finance Project, NSPE
Jasmine Rault, Assistant Professor of Culture and Media, Lang
Radhika Subramaniam, Assistant Professor of Art and Design History, School of Art and Design History and Theory; Director/Chief Curator, Sheila Johnson Design Center, Parsons
Aleksandra Wagner, Assistant Professor of Sociology, NSPE
Anthony Whitfield, Associate Professor of Art and Design; School of Art and Design History and Theory, Parsons
Tracyann Williams, Director of Academic Advising, NSPE

Theaster Gates: A Way of Working is part of the program initiatives of the inaugural Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics. It is curated by Carin Kuoni, Director/Curator, Vera List Center for Art and Politics, and Chelsea Haines, Curatorial Associate, in collaboration with Theaster Gates, with support from Kate Hadley Williams, Studio and Exhibitions Manager for Theaster Gates, La Keisha Leek, Artist Liaison for Rebuild Foundation, and the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center, Parsons The New School for Design. Additional support is provided by White Cube, London. Special thanks to Yoko Ono. Founding Supporters of the Prize are James-Keith Brown and Eric Diefenbach, Elizabeth Hilpman and Byron Tucker, Jane Lombard, Joshua Mack, and The New School for Public Engagement.

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