Real-estate developer, potter, activist, gospel singer… Theaster Gates, the artist behind the 2017 IHME Project The Black Charismatic, has many roles. In a discussion between Gates and Charles Esche, Director of Van Abbemuseum, Gates reveals why he decided to concentrate on forms of artistic practice other than object-making for the art market. That conversation can now be viewed on the Festival’s YouTube channel.
“I had a fairly autonomous artistic practice, where there was an ego, an ambition, an autonomy and signature, and that I was becoming bored with myself,” is how Gates describes the point he had reached about ten years ago. His musical ensemble, The Black Monks of Mississippi, performed for the first time in 2008, in Eindhoven, on Esche’s invitation. Since then, this experimental group has served as an antidote to assumptions that the artist is an autonomous individual.
In the discussion, Gates also describes the initial stages of his other art projects. What is his relationship to music, to language and literature? And how does his way of reusing materials, such as slate from a demolished church roof, differ from the way American minimalists like Robert Rauschenberg integrate found objects into their works? “I actually think that I’ve given myself a tougher project by insisting that I don’t roll by myself, than that that object is independent of some narrative,” Gates says, to distinguish between his approach and that of minimalist art, which supposedly comes without a context.
In addition to this interview, the videos on the Festival’s YouTube channel (in Finnish and English) include artist talks, as well as keynote speeches and panel discussions by key international figures in the arts.