If there is a Guinness World Record for the longest piece of performance art, then surely by 6pm on 21 November 2015, the American artist Theaster Gates will have broken it (sorry, Marina). The Chicago-based artist yesterday unveiled one of his most ambitious endeavours to date – Sanctum – that will see an uninterrupted, 522-hour programme of sound ring out from the bombed ruins of Bristol’s Temple Church.
Of course, such an undertaking would be impossible alone. And so, Gates has turned to the city’s brimming pool of musicians, performers, spoken-word artists and more to contribute to the round-the-clock lineup.
The programme, scheduled by MAYK and produced by Situations, has deliberately been kept secret. Visitors might chance on a rousing gospel choir or they may find themselves alone with a poet in the early hours of the morning. This element of surprise is an intrinsic part of the installation, and was a conscious decision to differentiate it from the multitude of Bristol’s gig offerings.
Temple Church – currently in the care of English Heritage and not usually open to the public – was almost lost during the first night blitz on Bristol in 1940. From its ashes rises Gates’ first public project in the UK, who has breathed new life into the site with a specially built structure made from the discarded remains of local sites of worship and labour.
Timber, bricks and doors have been sourced from former Georgian houses across Bristol. The Salvation Army, meanwhile, gifted bricks plucked from the now demolished 19th century Bristol citadel in St Pauls, while flooring has been made using doors from a former chocolate factory in Easton. After years of dormancy, the shell of the 14th century church is once again serving as a place of congregation.
‘In some ways this project was attempting to make space inside of a sacred space that people might connect with another and continue this sound work,’ explained Gates at the opening of the installation. ‘Sanctum is primarily a platform on which the people of Bristol have an opportunity to hear each other.’ To wit, the programme not only features local artists but those passing through Bristol, who contribute to the city’s fabric if only fleetingly.
Sanctum was inaugurated last night by the City of Bristol Pipes and Drum band, while soul singer Celestine Walcott-Gordon and her band soon followed with a stirring set. Over the course of the next 23 days, Sanctum will be graced by the likes of Ushti Babba (expect Balkan rhythms and Celtic melodies); improvised musical compositions from Sleepdogs; Count Bobo’s Jamaican rocksteady; and even the whir of a potter’s wheel – a nod to Gates’ affinity for pottery.
Sound will be explored in traditional and unconventional fashion alike, giving Bristol a voice louder and more pitch-perfect than ever before.