Bristol- Theaster Gates – Sanctum

Theaster Gates, a Chicago based artist (he is a professor at University of Chicago and director of Arts and Public Life at the university,) has an expanded practice which includes installation and object making, performance and engagement with the public.

It is therefore very exciting to see his work in downtown Bristol- somewhat different to his latest project converting the old bank of Chicago, which he purchased as a wreck for $1, into a public arts space.

More information about that project at:

Sanctum is a temporary structure created from materials from building sites, other buildings and places of worship around Bristol in which 24 hours a day for a month there is a continuous programme of sound- musicians, performers and speakers are participating in the event.

The building itself is beautiful- in the way that a shed on an allotment can be beautiful-there is something powerful and resilient about reused materials. As one enters the smell of freshly sawn wood engulfs you, in a similar way to incense- which of course fits perfectly with the concept of a sacred place, built within the romantic ruin of the Temple Church. The writer felt that the use of large bolts to hold the structure together, along with jagged edges of the roof structure, reminded her of images of the Crucifixion- the crown of thorns, the nails, and the ever present scent of wood might refer to Jesus the carpenter. In this most welcoming of space, there were definite echoes of the type of religious symbolism that would have been found in the original church.

The view of the old church through the distorting glass at the rear of the building was especially moving- the ruin becoming more ruinous, as if melting before us.

While I was there, the Bards of Avalon were performing, singing and chanting mantras, followed by Laura Aish,a sound artist, using and manipulating sounds- which could have been a stomach gurgling, a heart beating…. so visceral. The nature of the space- warm, brown wood, full of human breathing,created a moment of being reborn as one stepped out into the fresh bright air from the experience.

More about Laura’s art practice:

This art practice is so worth while experiencing- we don’t have enough of this kind of work in the UK- which involves and brings in the public rather than be offputting. This makes contemporary art something we can all share and engage with- and each bring and take away what works for the individual. I really hope that we see more of Theaster’s work here soon.