Temple Church, Bristol

Theaster Gates reveals new church project details

The artist outlines his plans for Sanctum, a 24/7, three-week-long performance in a derelict British church

Theaster Gates’ first UK public project is being staged in Bristol this autumn, as part of the city’s European Green Capital celebrations. So, it’s fitting that the Chicago artist is finding a new way to repurpose an otherwise derelict building.

From midday on 29 October until midday on 21 November 2015 Gates will stage a non-stop series of performances in the bombed out remains of Temple Church, a 14th century ecclesiastical ruin in central Bristol.

He is inviting the city’s performers, musicians and bands to take part in the event, called Sanctum, which he says will serve as a kind of “plinth or an amplifier” for the city. 


Theaster Gates - photo by Sara Pooley
Theaster Gates - photo by Sara Pooley

This use of communities and ruins is common to his art. Gates has an extensive artistic practice that includes real-estate redevelopment, object making, performance and critical engagement with many different audiences. He transforms spaces, institutions, traditions, and perceptions. His training as an urban planner and sculptor, and subsequent time spent studying clay, has given him keen awareness of the poetics of production and systems of organizing. Playing with these poetic and systematic interests, he's assembled gospel choirs and formed temporary unions.

Back in March the artist told us that Martyr Constructions, his Venice exhibition of reclaimed church materials, “has to do with the relocation of materials. If there is spiritual potency inside of certain materials,” he went on, “then I’m constantly trying to reawaken that potency to reanimate that animist being inside.”



Speaking to the Guardian newspaper in an article published today, the artist offered a similar explanation for this British project. “When I visited Bristol and was looking at sites, I was just really moved by the ruins,” Gates said. “I had no initial idea except that the space, even in its current state, should be activated.”

There will be no official programme for the performances at Sanctum, though visitors will be able to book tickets to this exhibition from 21st September. Instead Gates hopes the city itself will set Sanctum’s agenda.

“Sometimes things can happen in places like Bristol that can’t happen in larger, cosmopolitan cities,” said the artist. “I have to ask myself: is there a way I can get to know the personality of a place through its people and places?”

Local artists keen to take part can lodge an application to perform at Sanctum here; meanwhile, for more on this important contemporary artist get a copy of our forthcoming Theaster Gates Contemporary Artist Series book which features a survey of his work by Lisa Lee, an interview with Theaster conducted by Carol Becker a focus by Achim Borchardt-Hume and artist's writings by the man himself. You can pre-order it here.