Theaster Gates’s. My Labor Is My Protest

“My Labor Is My Protest” is not just about the production of artworks though; it is far more centered on how art production relates, via distribution and exchange, to the creation of communities and markets. Gates fully invests in art’s transformative potential as fetish to generate revenue for his larger social and cultural collaborative projects. The most well-known of these is The Dorchester Project (2009) on Chicago’s South Side, a group of houses acquired by Gates and repurposed as, amongst other things, a library of 4,000 volumes from the now-closed Prairie Avenue Art and Architecture Bookstore, a 60,000-strong slide collection from the University of Chicago’s Art History Department, and a Soul Food Kitchen. That these unwanted collections have been re-housed is perhaps less interesting than the way in which they are used to create Minority Business Enterprises; businesses which, like JPC, are over 51% owned by members of ethnic minorities. These enterprises then run training schemes, utilizing the free labor of graduates in need of vocational experience to train unskilled, unemployed local residents. Such not-for-profit engagement with the mechanics of policy attempts to use art object production as a means toward the creation of an incentivized workforce, rather than the other way round. The extent to which this labor can be understood as protest is, of course, tempered by the workers themselves. Labor as protest is not about producing artworks, or even building cultural centers, and it is not about the appropriation of houses or land: labor as protest is about the appropriation of agency itself.

To think of the phrase “My Labor Is My Protest” in terms of agency poses the radical possibility for an art practice sustained through objects and not just because of them. Gates originally trained as a potter, and it was the lack of studio resources that led him to begin to consider issues of social policy, craft, and space. If the transformative relationship from dirt to clay to art is self-evident, then the issue is not the availability of dirt but the agency required see it as other than this; in other words, the care that brings clay and spirit together into life.

Entr’aperçu à la Documenta, son travail de ré aménagement intérieur violent de la maison des Huguenots qui nous avait laissés sceptiques, en regard de ce qu’avait fait Tino Sehgal, ce qui est assez bien analysé dans cet article