My Labor Is My Protest, – White Cube has announced the first exhibition with Theaster Gates. Gates is an artist, curator and urban activist whose work aims to galvanise communities and act as a catalyst for social change. For this exhibition, Gates has created a multi-faceted installation that investigates themes of race and history through sculpture, installation, performance and two-dimensional works exhibited both inside and outside of the Bermondsey site. The exhibition furthers the artist’s interest in a critique of social practice, shared economies and the question of objects in relation to political and cultural thought.
In ‘Raising Goliath’ (2012) and ‘My Labor is My Protest’ (2012), Gates readdresses the ongoing struggle for civil rights and, like his ongoing series, ‘In the Event of Race Riot’ (2011 onwards), these works have special iconic significance in relation to particular episodes in recent American history. In ‘Raising Goliath’, Gates uses theatrical pulleys to suspend a classic red fire-truck from the ceiling of South Gallery II, counterbalancing it at its other end is a huge metal container, housing hundreds of issues of the iconic magazine ‘Ebony’. Gates described the work as a way to ‘hoist the history of the Civil Rights out of view, making it both weightless and invisible…’ and to highlight ‘the way things change and remain the same’. In ‘My Labor is My Protest’, he has parked a yellow fire-truck at the entrance to the Bermondsey gallery and partially covered it with tar, a gesture that is both political and personal, inspired, in part, by Gates’s father who tarred roofs for a living as an alternative form of protest during the Chicago riots (1968).
Gates refers to his working method as ‘critique through collaboration’ and his projects often stretch the form of what we usually understand visual art to take. His focus is also on availability of information and the cross-fertilisation of ideas. In South Gallery I, a library has been installed, borrowed from the archive of Johnson Publishing Company, the Chicago-based publishers of ‘Ebony’. The curated selection of books and magazines offer a history of black American culture. Alongside this, in 9x9x9, an installation of vanity stands and make-up counters display a selection of cosmetics from ‘Fashion Fair’, the first and largest company to produce products specifically for a black consumer and also a subsidiary of Johnson Publishing Company. Visitors will be able to book a makeover from ‘Fashion Fair’ make-up artists during the opening and the first two weekends of the exhibition.
Gates will also display various two-dimensional works in the exhibition that explore his interest in the poetics of re-purposed and salvaged materials. These include a series of tar panels that incorporate various textural objects such as wood, carpet and wire and several ‘Civil Tapestry’ works, made from colourful strips of decommissioned fire hose tonally arranged and sewn together.
During the course of the exhibition, there will be two performances by ‘The Black Monks of Mississippi’. This is an ensemble of musicians and vocalists that Gates writes for, performs in and directs and whose music includes such diverse traditions as Gospel, Blues, Buddhist and Zen chants. Gates’ performances with the ‘The Black Monks of Mississippi’ are highly animated since for the artist, sound works in conjunction with the movement of the body.
Theaster Gates was born in 1973. He lives and works in Chicago. He has had solo exhibitions at Seattle Art Museum (2011), Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (2011), Milwaukee Art Museum (2010), Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2009) and Art Institute of Chicago (2007). His work has been shown in group exhibitions at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (2010) and the Tokoname Museum of Ceramic History, Japan (2005). He also featured in ‘dOCUMENTA 13’, Kassel, Germany (2012), the ‘Armory Show’, New York (2011) and ‘Whitney Biennial’, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2010). One of his most esteemed projects is ‘The Dorchester Project’ (2006), which is ongoing.
White Cube Bermondsey is open Tuesday to Saturday, 10am – 6pm and Sunday, 12-6pm.
144-152 Bermondsey Street London SE1 3TQ United Kingdom