What's Theaster Gates doing in a UK church?

The artist will stage his first UK public project as part of Bristol's 2015 European Green Capital arts programme

Theaster Gates likes derelict religious buildings. Visitors to this year’s Biennale have the opportunity to see one such reawakening in Gates’ Martyr Construction, which forms part of the international exhibition. This work, which consists of statues, roof tiles and a bell all salvaged from the now-demolished Roman Catholic Church of St Laurence in Chicago, demonstrated some of Gates’ ecclesiastical interests.

As he recently told Phaidon, with reference to his current  2015 Venice Biennale show, “If there is spiritual potency inside of certain materials, then I’m constantly trying to reawaken it, to reanimate that animist being inside.” Yet he’s also shown a wider interest in non-Christian beliefs in his 2014 award-winning Artes Mundi exhibition, A Complicated Relationship Between Heaven and Earth, or, When We Believe; and in religious music, with this band, the Black Monks of Mississippi.


Gates Monks

So, what has the artist got planned for a derelict church in the British city of Bristol? Well, the British arts organisation Situations, has already confirmed that Gates will stage his first UK public project in a derelict Bristol church as part of the city’s arts programme to celebrate its designation as European Green Capital 2015. They've also confirmed the venue will serve as 'a sound sanctuary' so it's definitely something to do with music. 

Theaster is particularly interested in sound,” says Claire Doherty, director of Situations. However, perhaps hinting at the nature of what that sound might be she adds a warning note: “We need to get scheduled monument consent, so it may change.” It seems Gates’ plans might be stymied by British laws passed to protect certain historic buildings. 


Martyr Construction (2015) by Theaster Gates
Martyr Construction (2015) by Theaster Gates

An application needs to be made to the UK’s Secretary of State for Culture before any work can be carried out which might affect a protected building either above or below ground level. It’s unclear how a sound installation would affect the building’s structure but we're definitely intrigued as to how Theaster will find new uses for one of Britain’s neglected places of worship.

Find out more about the project, which should open this autumn, here. You can book tickets to an associated talk Theaster will be giving in the city on 31 October 2015; and you can pre-order our forthcoming monograph dedicated to this important contemporary artist here.