For over forty years, Charles Gaines (b. 1944) has taken a systematic approach to his conceptual practice by developing works of art with rule-based methodologies of his own creation. His interests range from politics and history to aesthetics and language systems, while his formal influences include Tantric Buddhist diagrams and the avant-garde musician John Cage’s notions of indeterminacy. Skybox I (2011) is comprised of three LED panels emblazoned with texts by radicals and socialists across nations and eras: Gerrard Winstanley (England, 1609– 1676), Léopold Sédar Senghor (Senegal, 1906–2001), Frantz Fanon (Martinique/ Algeria, 1925–1961), and Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam, 1890–1969). As one examines the panels, the texts begin to blur and disappear, giving way to an expanse of stars. This phenomenon is disconcerting insofar as the disappearing words seem to relate to current issues of oppression and emancipation throughout the world, yet a deeper understanding slips away from us. Equally layered is the personal, meditative experience that occurs when the words begin to fade, leaving us reeling from this close encounter with the fragility of the human condition against the infinitude of existence.
For Prospect.3, Gaines is presenting “Skybox”. Skybox consists of a light box measuring approximately seven by twelve feet. The light box illuminates blown up images of political texts on oppression, colonialism and liberation, democracy and freedom. The texts are by the 17th century religious reformer Gerard Winstanley, and twentieth century philosophers and political leaders Léopold Sédar Senghor, Frantz Fanon, and Ho Chi Minh. At regular intervals, the light box dims and the lights go out in the installation space. Over 30,000 holes laser cut into the surface in the box light up, so that the texts disappear, revealing thousands of points of light that suggest a star-filled night sky. The night sky image alternates with the photo image as the lights slowly go on and off in the gallery. The work is designed so that the night sky does not look like a light box photo, but in reality reproduces the illusion of deep space.
Of viewers’ intense and often personal reactions to his works, Gaines has said, “I’m interested in creating this space of rupture between thinking and feeling. What I say is that I have no responsibilities. I’m not trying to get you to feel anything. . . . You hear someone say that he hates political art because it’s didactic. There’s nothing wrong with didactic art. I want to address and give license to that kind of art. But I’m approaching it in terms of these kinds of epistemological notions. That’s the nature of my own investigation.”
Charles Gaines (b. 1944, Charleston, South Carolina) received his B.A. from Jersey City State University and his M.F.A. from the Rochester Institute of Technology. He taught at California State University, Fresno; and has been on the faculty of the California Institute of the Arts since 1989. Gaines has been included in countless exhibitions, including at Smart Museum of Art, Chicago; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; The Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Los Angeles; the Venice Biennale (2007); the Triennale der Photographie, Hamburg (1999) and Esslingen (2004); and the Whitney Biennial (1975). He has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship (2013), American Academy of the Arts Purchase Award (2009); United States Artist (2007); Norton Family Foundation grant (2007); the Adoline Kent Award (2001), National Endowment for the Arts (1997). Gaines is in the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco. He has also published widely and is represented by the Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects.