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Lest who forget? Theaster Gates on the politics of what we preserve

Inventive Chicago artist Theaster Gates has unveiled a new major show at the AGO: How To Build a House Museum.
Theaster Gates: How to Build a House Museum. Installation shot (detail) (Theaster Gates, 2016)

We preserve the legacy of some people and cultures, while allowing others to fade into obscurity —  but make no mistake, says innovative artist Theaster Gates, that process isn't neutral. 
 
The potter, painter, arts programmer and trained urban planner is best known for his so-called "urban interventions," like buying an old crack house and turning it into a beautiful cultural hub, just to see how that might affect his struggling Chicago neighbourhood.
 
His new exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario, How To Build a House Museum, takes a closer look at what we deem worthy of memorializing, what we bother to preserve, and why it matters.

Theaster Gates: How to Build a House Museum installation shot (detail) (Theaster Gates, 2016)
 

Today he joins guest host Stephen Quinn to discuss the chasm between the historical and the forgettable, and how we might rethink preservation to include values and cultural turning points. 

"It starts with caring for the material, and then the harder thing," says Gates, referring to the context those materials came from.

"There should be these reminders in the world that help conflate our today and our histories, lest we forget."

Theaster Gates: How to Build a House Museum installation shot (detail) (Theaster Gates, 2016)
 

Stressing that "hopelessness will rebel," the artist says he doesn't identify as an optimist, but rather someone who's willing to roll up his sleeves.  

"What I am is willing to say: whether I'm optimistic or pessimistic, there's work that needs to be done today. " 

Theaster Gates: How to Build a House Museum. Installation shot (detail). (Theaster Gates, 2016)
"My hope is that with a good brain, and a good heart, and a good set of hands, one could transform the things that are in front of them, or even transform the things that are beyond their sight," says Gates. "I think that these exhibitions are my attempt at transformation." 
 
Theaster Gates: How to Build a House Museum installation shot (detail) (Theaster Gates, 2016)

 

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