Systems and Structures: Art21 Features Charles Gaines’ New Works

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School of Art Faculty Emeritus Charles Gaines is the latest subject of Art21’s Extended Play series, which offers a 10-minute video profile of Gaines titled Systems and Structures.

The Los Angeles-based conceptual artist is renowned for works created both within and outside of ordered systems, consequently revealing “tensions between the empirical objective and the viewers’ subjective response.” This exploration continues with Gaines’ recent projects, including Manifestos 4, a musical transcription of the landmark Dred Scott v Sandford decision. By assigning individual letters within the text to musical notes and rests, Gaines illustrates how a melody can be derived from text. The piece was performed this past summer in Times Square alongside Gaines’ public sculpture Roots (2022), a series of seven sweetgum trees native to the now globally recognized commercial hub. 

In the video, Gaines also discusses Moving Chains, his first public art commission currently situated on Outlook Hill on New York City’s Governors Island—a waterway once integral to the transatlantic slave trade. A staggering 110 feet in length and suspended 10 feet above ground, the kinetic sculpture features nine massive chainlinks rotating in accordance with the current of the Hudson River. As visitors walk underneath the loud clanging chains, Gaines seeks to recreate the intimidation and terror of a slave ship, highlighting the unmistakable connection between enslavement, capitalism, and the injustices enduring till modern day.

“How do we improve the world? How do we improve life for everybody? Well, I don’t know if that’s possible,” says Gaines. “But when the bad things happen, we’ve got to complain about them in order to reduce them.”

Watch Systems & Structures: Charles Gaines above.

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PUBLISHED BY Taya Zoormandan

As digital content and social media producer, Taya enjoys lifting up the stories and accomplishments of CalArts' students, alums, and faculty. She fancies herself a visual artist but is really more of an overzealous collector of art supplies.

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