Moving Chains is live on Governors Island, the second chapter of Charles Gaines’s The American Manifest. The 110-foot kinetic sculpture activated by colossal chains rotating overhead anchors a public art project that addresses the reality of systemic racism in the United States of America through embodied and visual experience, and provides critical historical context on our extraordinary political division today.
Moving Chains is on view to the public on Governors Island in New York Harbor through June 2023, before it moves to the banks of the Ohio River in Cincinnati.
The second chapter in Charles Gaines’s monumental The American Manifest, Moving Chains is Governors Island Arts’ largest public art commission to date and will provide a deeply immersive opportunity for Island visitors and all New Yorkers to engage with the complex histories and legacies of Governors Island, New York Harbor, and the United States as a whole
Governors Island Arts is committed to supporting transformative artistic interventions that encourage New Yorkers to engage with the most pressing issues of our time, and we are honored to work with Charles Gaines and our incredible partners to bring Moving Chains to Governors Island.said Meredith Johnson, Vice President of Arts and Culture and Head Curator at the Trust for Governors Island.
Moving Chains is a monumental 110-foot long kinetic sculpture built from steel and sustainably harvested Sapele, commonly referred to as African Mahogany, a tree native to West Africa. Created by Charles Gaines with collaborating architects TOLO Architecture, the sculpture, which people may enter and walk through, contains nine custom made chains weighing over 1,600 pounds each running its length overhead. Eight of the chains are representative of the pace of the currents in New York Harbor, while a ninth central chain moves more quickly, recalling the pace of ship and barge traffic that has traveled the city’s waterways for centuries.
The overall effect of the weight and motion of the chains produces a rhythmic, undulating loop, evocative of the sounds of New York Harbor at the entrance to the Hudson River, known to the area’s Indigenous residents the Lenape as Mahicantuck, the river that runs two ways. Starting during the Dutch and British occupations, this waterway near present-day lower Manhattan would become an economic pillar of the transatlantic slave trade and seed the system of racial capitalism foundational to the United States. Facing the Statue of Liberty—an international symbol of benevolence and human rights, distinguished by the abolitionist iconography of a broken shackle and chain at her right foot—Moving Chains calls attention to the nation’s economic, judicial, and political frameworks that continue the legacy of slavery today.
To accompany Moving Chains, Creative Time and Governors Island Arts will present a conference on abolition and the limits of the law on the Island this Spring 2023, reconsidering legal and cultural definitions of freedom and the unfinished project of abolition. Bringing together an interdisciplinary group of thinkers, the accompanying programs will ask, how can liberation be defined outside of the confines of slavery and racial capitalism? What does freedom look like? What tactics are necessary to get there? Who is leading us in this work? On the occasion of Moving Chains, Black Gotham Experience, a project that reimagines spaces directly impacted by the African Diaspora established by artist and historian Kamau Ware, will offer an audio tour of the pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial patterns that have informed a centuries-long relationship with what are known today as the East and Hudson Rivers and New York Harbor. Access to the tour will be available throughout the pathway to Moving Chains via QR code and HERE: creativetime.org
Charles Gaines’s Moving Chains, Governors Island, through June 2023 govisland.com/the-american-manifest-moving-chains
About American Manifest
Sited within two key cities whose histories have shaped the identity of America, this project invites the public to consider New York and Cincinnati’s waterways’ in both upholding slavery and securing liberation, a duality that challenges reductive narratives of the history of slavery in America, and contributes to the ongoing dialogue about systems and cycles of racism, extraction, and oppression experienced today.
About the artist
A pivotal figure in the field of conceptual art, Charles Gaines’s body of work engages formulas and systems that interrogate relationships between the objective and the subjective realms. Using a generative approach to create a series of works in a variety of mediums, he has built a bridge between the early conceptual artists of the 1960s and 1970s and subsequent generations of artists pushing the limits of conceptualism today. Gaines lives and works in Los Angeles. He recently retired from the CalArts School of Art, where he was on faculty for over 30 years and established a fellowship to provide critical scholarship support for Black students in the M.F.A. Art program. He has been the subject of numerous exhibitions in the United States and around the world, most notably a mid-career survey at the Pomona College Museum of Art and the Pitzer College Art Gallery in Claremont CA, as well as a museum survey of his Gridwork at The Studio Museum, Harlem NY, and Hammer Museum, Los Angeles CA. His work has also been presented at the 1975 Whitney Biennial and the Venice Biennale in 2007 and 2015. An exhibition of his work is currently on long term view at Dia:Beacon in New York. In addition to his artistic practice, Gaines has published several essays on contemporary art, including ‘Theater of Refusal: Black Art and Mainstream Criticism’ (University of California, Irvine, 1993) and ‘The New Cosmopolitanism’ (California State University, Fullerton, 2008). In 2019, Gaines received the 60th Edward MacDowell Medal. He was inducted into the National Academy of Design’s 2020 class of National Academicians; as well as the American Academy of Arts and Letters in May 2022. In January 2023, Gaines will be the subject of a major one person exhibition of new work at Hauser & Wirth New York.