Since the 1970s, Charles Gaines has produced highly formal conceptual works that bring into play disparate artistic and political positions by means of a disciplined system or set of rules. Gaines’ interest in systems aesthetics can be related to the systematized work of minimalist, Fluxus and early conceptual artists, yet his works differ in their preparedness to engage directly with prosaic, social, political and philosophical propositions. As a result, his work evokes the far-ranging sets of relationships that shape the humanitarian concern for social justice.
In Skybox I (2011), a twelve-foot-long light box presents texts on human rights from seventeenth-century religious reformer Gerard Winstanley and twentieth-century philosophers and political leaders Léopold Sédar Senghor, Frantz Fanon and Ho Chi Minh. The texts gradually fade to black to reveal the night sky at the time of their writing, a sky that is also ever incrementally changing. Manifesto 2 (2013) references four manifestos, including An Indigenous Manifesto (1999) by Canadian Taiaiake Alfred and Malcolm X’s last speech in 1965 at Detroit’s Ford Auditorium. For BNLMTL 2014, he is presenting the precursor Manifestos (2008), which quotes revolutionary manifestos of the Socialist International Congress, the Situationist International, the Black Panthers and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. The texts of the manifestos are then translated through a baroque system to produce both scores hung as wall works and, ultimately, music emanating from four monitors to accompany images of the texts as they scroll vertically. The scores and music in turn reference a history of anthems that are motivated by revolution and protest.